For Sterling Ruby’s second solo exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Berlin, he presents works from his “Scales” series of mobile sculptures – conceived for the first time as a single installation.
Sterling Ruby’s output across a diverse range of media can be measured as a fine balance between chaos and order. Manifesting his coherent artistic vision in painting, sculpture, video, photography, ceramics, textiles and, more recently, clothing, Ruby embarks upon investigations into the material and intellectual fabric of contemporary society.
These new mobile sculptures, titled “Scales”, are three-dimensional versions of recent collages and are executed on a similar scale to his murals, textiles, and paintings. However, they can be seen as more akin to his amorphous, stuffed soft works in the way that they occupy space. The title of the series alludes to the idea of balance and weight that refers, in turn, to the laws of equilibrium, and conjures the mystical symbol of Libra in astrology.
The title of the show itself, “The Jungle”, implies a dense, uncompromising ecosystem of dangling foliage. The installation of mobiles is conceived as such an environment; the varying heights and densities carry the eye through space. Ruby’s monumental mobiles are comprised of monochrome, cutout shapes and ephemera from his studio that includes components of previous works and detritus from the studio floor. By introducing these elements, the monochromatic parts are given a narrative framework that instills the work with a contemplative conceptual edge and allows us to consider the material combinations throughout his body of work.
More than other series in Ruby’s oeuvre, “Scales” explicitly references modernist, Bauhaus, and Suprematist aesthetics, becoming a model through which he can strip down his own artistic history and conditioning. At odds with the more mechanical elements of modernist aesthetics, the use of base, handmade elements gives a scrappy, craft-orientated finish. Brightly coloured formal shapes evoke the orbiting celestial bodies of the solar system, while other elements – fragments of steel with raw welded edges, chains linked together to create beautiful drawn arcs, steel drums, engine blocks, buckets, pipes and baseball bats – suggest a grittier, industrial tenor.
Continuing the tradition set by Modernist forbearers, chance plays a part in the conception of these sculptures. The cutout forms are shaped both by nature and chance, an element that is in and of itself. Likewise, the movement of the mobiles is incidental; the sculptures tremble and glide according to the conditions within the gallery, creating new constellations and ways to be perceived.
As Ruby himself has noted, it is impossible to separate mobile sculpture from the legacy of Alexander Calder. Ruby’s specific Californian milieu is also fertile ground for more recent art historical references; Chris Burden, Mike Kelley and Jason Rhoades have all produced sculptures that dangle and balance. These artists often used mobiles as a political tool in the context of the US justice system, interpreting its iconographic image of Lady Justice balancing the scales, here Ruby acknowledges that history and incorporates it with the formal elements, the colours, shapes and forms deployed in the works of Calder, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Motherwell colliding the elegance of modernism with the contemporary.