Sterling Ruby

An installation about masturbation falls limp.

  • Installation view; Photographs: Mark Woods, Courtesy of the artist and Foxy...

Installation view; Photographs: Mark Woods, Courtesy of the artist and Foxy...

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Sterling Ruby takes the comparison of contemporary art and onanism to new lengths—eight inches or more—in The Masturbators, an installation featuring nine video projections of naked men jacking off. Each guy stands in the same alcove, its walls covered with peeling paint, and, to stress the relationship between self-gratification and art, each stands in his abject white cube on two towels of contrasting colors, like Minimalist paintings underfoot. The spectacle momentarily shocks, but that sensation quickly shrinks to mild interest as we begin appraising differences in body type and—since the models all work as professional porn actors—manner, from theatrical to affectless: A tattooed, bearded guy stands on tiptoes and pinches his nipple; one with a hairy chest plays with his balls; a third needs to lie down with a magazine. An amplified cacophony of heavy breathing, grunts and wet slapping sounds accompanies the visuals.

Male masturbation in art has a sizable history, going back at least to Vito Acconci’s Seedbed of 1971, so to think of Ruby’s work as transgressive is difficult, especially when similar entertainments are readily available on any computer without parental controls. A gallery handout’s claim that The Masturbators says something meaningful about either masculinity or performance art is merely risible. Yet nearly anywhere we stand in the gallery’s close quarters, our own shadows get cast on the sometimes life-size projections, turning viewers into actively participating voyeurs of a creepily pretentious, deadpan—and deadening—wankfest.—Joseph R. Wolin

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Foxy Production, through Nov 21