The Gagosian Gallery roundup of Nancy Rubins’s latest sculptures represents the Los Angeles artist’s first show in New York since 2006. Rubins, of course, is known for making bold, large-scale aggregations out of like objects, creations that have included a 45-foot-high tornado of discarded appliances for an empty lot in Washington, D.C., and a suspended sculpture that strapped-together amalgam of mattresses and squashed Entenmann’s cakes for the 1995 Whitney Biennial. More recent works—starbursts of recycled canoes and vortices of airplane parts—have emphasized form over references to societal waste.
The four sculptures here are made from vintage playground animals, the kind that rock back and forth on springs, massed together and held in equilibrium by a network of steel cables. The largest piece pushes out from one wall, cantilevering overhead like a blobby, multihued cloud. Three others, the size and shape of overgrown shrubs, mushroom from small bases on the floor. The rounded contours of the collected horses, ducks and frogs add to the impression that the works are frothing over. All of these creatures, made from aluminum originally destined to be recycled, were themselves cast from recycled metal.
There are formal pleasures here, including the structures’ open, billowy shapes and the painterly use of found color (the occasional shots of bright orange or turquoise amid the dirty yellows, fleshy pinks, faded reds and dull mauves). However, the materials don’t achieve the transformative promise of the show’s title, while the sculptures themselves never transcend the pop associations and creepy feel of their googly-eyed, Koonsian parts. In the end, they lack the balance of allusion and abstraction present in Rubins’s best work.—Anne Doran