Rome, at Gagosian, Sterling Ruby's works reflect on ecological collapse

From Nov. 20, 2021 to Feb. 5, 2022, Gagosian's Rome venue will host the exhibition "Future Present" by American-Dutchman Sterling Ruby, which reflects on our race toward ecological collapse.

New exhibition for Gagosian’s Rome office, which for the first time will show works by American-Dutch artist Sterling Ruby (Bitburg, 1972). Titled Future Present, the exhibition, from November 20, 2021 to February 5, 2022, includes new sculptures and collages by the artist, plus a special installation by Sterling Ruby will be on view at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery from November 20 to December 19, 2021. In his first gallery show in Rome, Ruby has previously exhibited in the city in 2013 at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO) and the Fondazione Memmo. “Visiting the Roman Forum one late spring several years ago,” Ruby said, “remains one of my most important experiences. The red poppies in full bloom, the life flowing through the ruins. We live in a state of constant destruction and becoming, turning around we keep reinventing the past as if it were present.”

Through a production that includes sculpture, ceramics, painting, drawing, collage, video and textiles, Ruby dialogues with art history, institutional power and her own autobiography. Contrasting clean lines and recognizable objects with raw and mysterious forms, the artist demolishes conventional aesthetics by analyzing contemporary social structure. Ruby’s sculptural practice is also inspired by the craft traditions of sewing and woodworking, as well as the domesticity and hot rod culture that informed her childhood living on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. Living and working in Los Angeles, the artist draws on the city’s physical and conceptual landscapes, exploring the potential of vandalism, such as graffiti, to generate a new pictorial sublime.

In Future Present, Ruby reflects on our race toward ecological collapse. Six large, brilliant, and perfect monochromatic drops (monuments to blood, urine, oil, water, “total carbon,” and “greenpeace”) appear atop pedestals of fòrmica, on each of which are inscribed the initials of the tribute in question. The contrast between these pristine forms and the underlying material on which the graffiti emerges describes the disconnect between public and private and the degradation of these aspects. Set up in the oval space of the gallery, these forms merge as if in a chorus, emphasizing the enormity of spheres (from the corporeal to the chemical) that are assaulted or even promoters of environmental decline.

A group of small collages from the ever-evolving series DRFTRS (the title is an abbreviation of drifter, “homeless”), made since 2013, depicts watercolor rainbows interrupted by bones cut from archaeological journals that pose a poignant question, “What is a rainbow if there is nothing alive left to look at?” Ruby described the collage as an “illicit fusion,” suggesting its conceptual and technical transgression. The works on display in Rome, like others in the series, are both analytical and emotional, once again combining social reflection with formal experimentation. In part inspired by the ruins of ancient Rome, the DRFTRS collages (and the Future Present exhibition as a whole) manifest Ruby’s continuing interest in archaeological excavations, the cyclical nature of humanity, and all that we can still glean from what would otherwise be lost to time.

As anticipated, also since November, one of Ruby’s works has been on display in the Toletta di Venere room at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, a renowned museum that houses ancient art paintings in the private palace of one of Italy’s oldest and most respected collecting families. The Doria Pamphilj collection includes, among others, Diego Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), which has inspired numerous interpretations by Francis Bacon. Ruby will exhibit a new painting WIDW. CRASH CULTURE. (2021) from the WIDW (2016-) series, whose title is the artist’s chosen abbreviation of the word “window.” A rare opportunity to see a work of contemporary art in this major museum.

Sterling Ruby, an American and Dutch citizen, was born in 1972 and lives and works in Los Angeles. His works are included in the following collections, among others: Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate, London; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Ruby’s sculpture DOUBLE CANDLE (2018) is on permanent display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Recent exhibitions include DROPPA BLOCKA, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2013); STOVES, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris (2015); Belvedere, Vienna (2016); Ceramics, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2018, then at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York); and Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2019-20, then at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston). In June 2019, Ruby launched her clothing line, S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. after debuting at Pitti Uomo Immagine in Florence. At the invitation of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, Ruby presented her collection during Paris Couture Week in January 2021. The garments of S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. are included in the American fashion exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, presented at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through September 5, 2022.

Image: Sterling Ruby, DROP. PISSING (2021; fiberglass, wood, spray paint and laminate, 304.8 x 86.4 x 86.4 cm) © Sterling Ruby

Rome, at Gagosian, Sterling Ruby's works reflect on ecological collapse
Rome, at Gagosian, Sterling Ruby's works reflect on ecological collapse

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