Exhibition review: Sterling Ruby – EXHM at Hauser and Wirth

Sterling Ruby at Houser and Wirth

Originally published on The Upcoming on 22nd March 2013

Entitled EXHM (short for “exhumation”), Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist Sterling Ruby’s latest solo exhibition at Hauser and Wirth is a monumental effort, filling both North and South galleries. Immediately upon entering, the sheer scale of the works is striking. They dominate the sizeable, usually sparsely decorated space of the North gallery. The familiar red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes are here in abundance, twisted, melted and over-saturated to such a degree as to become sinister.

The works in the North gallery are divided into two discernible types: huge polyurethane structures and equally colossal soft toys. CDCR looks like two oversized revolver cylinders conjoined by searching tentacles, which are seemingly sickeningly steeped in blood, having the illusion of still visibly oozing due to the shiny finish. It is glossy, hinting at deep problems that are “glossed over” layer after layer but nonetheless still evident.

Monument Stalagmite/WE LUV STRUGGLIN’ is similar in style and hue but instead stabs menacingly out at the sky, blood red dripping from its jagged tip. This virile monument is propped by a wooden support, as if it was once freestanding – like a great power that has become impotent. This monolithic relic feels like a giant shard from a shattered American dream.

Indeed, the oversized soft toys seem to be airing out the ghosts of American imperialism, some covered in stars and stripes. When closely examined they are dirty, worn, used and almost domesticated, despite their absurd size. Some are strung up unceremoniously like hanging corpses; others are strewn on the floor like lifeless carcasses. Because of their scale, gallery-goers are forced to tip-toe around and over them to navigate the exhibition. This intense sense of foreboding belies their playful exterior and plush material.

Taken together, the sculpted works are reminiscent of a glossy corporate logo: perfect airbrushed exteriors on first glance, but on closer inspection the facades are clearly hiding some dark and dirty secrets.

Enclosing the sculptures are framed pieces of cardboard dotted with other ephemera from the floor of Sterling Ruby’s studio, adding to the sense that this is an exercise in excavation. The exhibition feels like it is cleaning out the closet of the artist, cleansing him of his complicity in the American hegemony his work is clearly an attempt to subvert. EXHM is an absolute triumph.

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