Nancy Rubins has not been hesitant about creating mammoth works of art, as seen in her first public installation at a shopping center in Illinois in 1981 or her 1995 installation of salvaged airplanes at MoMA. Exhibiting objects collected from thrift stores and and secondhand shops, the artist’s sculptural assemblages are charged with an eclectic energy. Televisions, planes, surfboards, heaters and mattresses are just a few source materials transformed into complex structures, charged with tangible energy and an inexplicable resistance to gravity.
Rubin’s works seem unsteady and precarious at a glance, with her neatly arranged and aesthetically balanced sculptures full of redeemed debris, and arranged into teetering new existences. Orchestrating singularly harmonious arrangements, Rubins contemplates an alternative notion of aesthetics and a cycle of nourishing from the repurposing of the undesired into the renewed.
Eight years after Big Pleasure Point, her installation at Lincoln Center, Rubins returns to New York with Our Friend Fluid Metal, a new show of work at Gagosian Gallery, consisting of four sculptural works and a wall piece, delivering her signature style using aluminum rides and vehicles collected from different parts of the country. Similar to her previous installations of boats and planes representing mobility and industrialism; Rubin’s rides here depict a tactile narrative. Once colorful and glamorous joys for children, these rides mutter stories from long gone days with worn out paint and rusty edges, all the while bursting with a distinct vitality.
Namesake of the exhibition, the massively sized Our Friend Fluid Metal is the most impressive of these turbulently arranged pieces, held together with stainless steel rods. Drawing attention to the manmade residue constantly accumulating in the environment, Rubins’ three dimensional structures recharge the waste with a blossoming vitality, all the while holding on to a bitter melancholy coming from its expired functionality. Rubins questions the role of the artist as the creator, confronting the notion of newness and new materials, rather leaning on a recycled system of material use. The figurative nature of these rides, shaped as horses, giraffes or other animals, contrast with the abstracted sculpting manner of Rubins, building a hybrid of figurative approach in material and a non-representative execution while managing to extend its roots to the heart of Futurism and Constructivism.
Combining motion and inanimate stillness in singular bodies, the sculptures draw nourishment from the primal, utilitarian existences of their source materials while holding a sense of anticipation. Metal, as the title suggests, beyond being the fundamental material of the aluminum rides, perpetuates a narrative in the course of time, shaping into diverse forms and structures from toys to airplanes, playing a key role in the evolution of mankind. Rubin’s materials become a metaphor for their own construction, stuck in a moment between fluid changes in form and use. Distanced from the grandiose presence of the sculptures, a work of graphite on rag paper, Drawing, is nestled in the corner of the gallery. Noticeably solid and weighty, the corrugated structure from 2005 adds an unlikely accent and a disparate approach on material use in art making.
Nancy Rubins: Our Friend Fluid Metal is on view at Gagosian Gallery through September 13, 2014.
Nancy Rubins, Drawing (2005)
*All images are by Osman Can Yerebakan for Art Observed.
— O.C. Yerebakan
Gagosian Gallery [Exhibition Page]