New York – Sterling Ruby: “TURBINES” at Gagosian Through December 23rd, 2022

December 5th, 2022

Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. CICADA KILLER (2022), via Gagosian
Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. CICADA KILLER. (2022), via Art Observed

On view this month at Gagosian Gallery’s 21st Street exhibition space in New York, artist Sterling Ruby has returned wits a new body of abstract paintings that continue the artist’s challenging and expressive exploration of the limits of painting. Marking a point of convergence between several varied thematic and material interests in the artist’s work, TURBINES brings together many of Ruby’s conceptual hallmarks into a commanding new mode. 

Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. SHAKING HANDS WITH BOMBS (RIGHT). (2022), via Gagosian
Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. SHAKING HANDS WITH BOMBS (RIGHT). (2022), via Art Observed

Started in 2021, the TURBINE series incorporates the same materials that characterize Ruby’s earlier WIDW paintings (2016–)—the title is an abbreviation of window—yet abandons their stark vertical divisions in favor of energetic, intersecting diagonals. Making reference not only to turbines and windmills, but also to hurricanes, explosions, fires, war, and geographical boundaries, cardboard components are blasted across the canvas, suggesting that elemental forces are pushing them toward the edges of the frame. Rather than implying the observation of action through a window, the combination of oil paint with bright cardboard swatches is tumultuous, as if a storm has blown the window apart and set its elements in motion.

Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. SHAKING HANDS WITH BOMBS (LEFT). (2022), via Gagosian
Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. SHAKING HANDS WITH BOMBS (LEFt). (2022), via Art Observed

The works are produced horizontally, using a similar washing technique he has employed previously in producing textile works, with the artist overdying the canvases in luminous colors before using them to cover his studio floor and allowing them to become crisscrossed by footprints and other marks. Ruby’s use of cardboard has similarly evolved; the material first appeared in his practice in the EXHM series (2011–14), in which sheets that had functioned to protect surfaces were “exhumed” to become the grounds of collages. In TURBINES, the hard edges of the canvases’ cardboard fragments are juxtaposed and combined with passages of feathered and smudged paint. The characteristically vibrant palette produces a multihued, sometimes kaleidoscopic effect. The paintings present a sense of flurried motion, which contains indexical traces of Ruby’s movements, alongside materials that seem to revolve in a cyclonic state.

Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. GABAPENTIN. (2022), via Art Observe
Sterling Ruby, TURBINE. GABAPENTIN. (2022), via Art Observed

These works continue an interest and desire by the artist to avoid works that are overly “pictorial,” steering clear of didactic, figurative or allusive framings to explore divergent modes and entry points into the image. Speed and deconstruction (perhaps even destruction), take a direct point of emphasis here. There’s clear connections with the futurists, with the mechanical and the militaristic in all of its power and violence, but there’s equally a mode of mitigation and expression of that mode’s equal threat and challenge to the world today. In TURBINES, Ruby employs abstraction as a response to contemporary ills, using formal relationships as broad allegories for social and ideological frictions.

The show closes December 23rd.

– D. Creahan

Read More:
Sterling Ruby at Gagosian [Exhibition Site]