By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Pulling off an exhibition of national treasures carved from huge blocks of stone presents more than a few practical hurdles, which makes this focus — the first ever comprehensive exhibition of Bernini’s portrait busts — not only a tight conceptual investigation but also a smart tactical move resulting in the first major show of Bernini’s work in North America. This is one not to be missed.
At MOCA’s Pacific Design Center space, Sterling Ruby pulls off an exercise in the baroque as it has come to be known with a lowercase b — not the negotiated and nuanced visual culture that flourished in Europe in the 17th century but a category of cultural products deemed florid, excessive and ornate. Ruby’s installation is all that. Titled “SUPERMAX,” it is a backhanded homage to the concept of the supermaximum security prison, which Ruby takes as an icon of the authoritarian state and conflates with institutional minimalism as exemplified in precisely the sort of white-cube space this show inhabits.
In the exhibition’s catalog, curator Philipp Kaiser nails it when, in attempting to capture the jumble of attitude underlying the German-born, U.S.-educated, Los Angeles–based artist’s work, writes of a visit to Ruby’s studio, where on the ceiling hang two posters — one featuring the late Plasmatics front-mistress Wendy O. Williams clutching a shotgun to her bare chest, and the other an exhibition promo featuring one of Viennese Actionist demigod Hermann Nitsch’s blood-soaked performances. The posters no doubt cinch the essence of Ruby’s oeuvre, but the artist is at his best when he avoids the sort of overt semiotic play of words and images that Kaiser uses as a writing device.
Ruby is strongest when he deals in the business of violating order and geometry with his telltale smudges and tags, and when he places engineered and constructed forms — covered in scrawled verbiage reminiscent of the last-minute inscriptions that construction workers write on building frames — in the service of the expressionistic, the scatological and the utterly decadent. Most notable are his stalactite- and stalagmite-like sculptures created from pours of urethane plastic, which turn the patient ease of time involved in the formation of their geological kin into something aggressive, ejaculatory, cancerous and panicked.
Ruby’s is an art, in ways not so distant from the phenomenological interests partly underlying the minimalism he rejects and defiles, that insists upon your awareness of the present, and sometimes makes you thankful for it.
MOCA Focus: Sterling Ruby, SUPERMAX 2008 | MOCA Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood | (310) 289-5223 or www.moca.org | Through Sept. 19