Although he’s no stranger to New York—having worked his way through the art-world ranks with exhibitions at Foxy Production, Metro Pictures and Pace Gallery—Sterling Ruby’s debut at Hauser & Wirth New York is his biggest and best show to date. Re-creating the spirit of his Los Angeles studio, Ruby presents 19 new, large-scale pieces in a variety of mediums, spread throughout the gallery’s massive main room. The absence of dividing walls lets viewers see how the works relate to one another and the impressive space around them.
All are monumental, except for a ceramic bowl, which is still as big as the medium allows. Four of Ruby’s signature spray paintings share wall space with collages constructed from sheets of cardboard originally used to cover his studio floor. Fabric assemblages made with rags, store-bought textiles and painted or bleached canvas stand alongside a tapestry suggesting the American flag and a pair of bronze sculptural reliefs of basins filled with studio detritus.
Standouts include Big Yellow Mama, which enlarges Alabama’s notorious electric chair to a scale worthy of the Lincoln Memorial; The Cup, a giant version of the eponymous object carved from foam and covered in dripping, blood-red urethane; and Hanging Figures, which depicts two stuffed soft-sculptural bodies sewn out of material patterned with American flags. Connected to each other, they are strung by their arms from a metal bar hanging overhead.
While Ruby here pursues his usual interest in process and craft, he’s added something else: intimations of political content that are as poetic as they are expressive.—Paul Laster