3 posts tagged "Sterling Ruby"
Thanks to a Fall ’14 menswear collaboration with Raf Simons, Sterling Ruby has become somewhat of a household name amongst the fashion set. But in the midst of his splattered sartorial foray, many missed out on the sheer scope and scale of Ruby’s accomplishments off the catwalk (as far back as 2008, The New York Times’ Roberta Smith dubbed him “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century”).
Sunrise Sunset, which bowed in NYC Friday night at Hauser & Wirth’s West 18th Street outpost, offers a good opportunity to catch up. The L.A.-based Ruby has tackled 10,000 square feet of exhibition space to create a wondrously ominous playground of new works. His pieces are informed as much by institutions (Ruby was born on a military base in Bitburg, Germany, and grew up in the darkly named, rural town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania) as a lack thereof (punk and skate cultures were among his earliest aesthetic touchstones). Faceless, flaccid effigies in a deceptively cuddly Stars and Stripes fleece hang from the rafters, and a bleach-riddled patchwork flag presides over the space from a back wall. Elsewhere, murky, spray-painted horizons recall graffiti. Ranging from ruminations to eviscerations, these works turn an eye to topics like the prison system and U.S. military involvement, and are affecting in a way that’s rare for such large-scale pieces.
We sat down with the master of many mediums to talk punk, bleach, and why you “goddamn well” won’t find him at Frieze.
I’ve read that you came to art through punk rock and skate culture. Can you talk a little bit about that?
I grew up primarily in rural Pennsylvania. I went to a pretty straight agriculture school. We had calligraphy and we had drafting—those were the only two art classes. And around the age of 12, I think I loved skateboarding and the associations [with it]. At that point in time, skateboarding was so closely merged with not only the aesthetics but also the attitude of California punk. There wasn’t necessarily a cultural background to my family; there weren’t museums. My family didn’t know art. It wasn’t a visual childhood, and so when I reached 12, 13, I got super-obsessed with that kind of lifestyle [and there] was already a type of aesthetic associated with that, and so it was to me a real challenge to associate a look with an attitude, and that became something that has mostly held true throughout my adulthood. Later on, when I started to meet a lot of other artists, like Mike Kelley, those things were also how they were introduced to visual culture. Not through art, per se, but through music.
Why L.A.? I’ve heard people talking a lot about the artistic community there being at a point of change.
I first started art school in 1990, and I went to a straight formal foundation school in Pennsylvania. When I say foundation school, it was like four years of figure studies, bowls of fruit, perspective and a lot of color theory. But the school modeled most of its curriculum on, like, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, which stops very much at modernism. I mean, you had your de Kooning books, but there wasn’t anything that seemed crazy and out there, and I remember sometime around ’93, Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s was bought by the library at the school. It was such a strange thing for this library to get, and I liked the pathology of the work that I saw within [it]. That made me really interested in Los Angeles as a place, as opposed to, say, New York. Years later I went to visit for the first time and I just felt super-comfortable with it, and I knew that I could feed off of that behavioral geographic. So when I wanted to go to graduate school, I only applied to two places— Art Center [College of Design] and UCLA. UCLA didn’t let me in, so I went to Art Center. But it was perfect. I became Mike Kelley’s teaching assistant for three years, and I’ve been pretty happy ever since. It’s also cheaper; you can work outside most of the year; and geographically, there’s a lot of diversity within it. It’s a big suburb. It’s not a real city, you know? And I quite like that about it. It’s so spread out and there’s a lot of hermeticism. People can easily stay isolated for long periods of time, whereas I think the logistics of New York don’t allow that as much.
How do you feel about the proliferation of art fairs?
I don’t really feel one way or another about it, but I think strategically I’ve realized that you need to be more selective or you’ll burn yourself out. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of people seeing the work, but it’s the context within the work…whether or not it’s shoved into a corner that has a bad floorboard on it…something like that. So those are qualities that are negative, but the fact of the matter is that more people will see, say, Basel Switzerland or Basel Miami than they will this show, and that’s challenging, to say the least.
Do you see fashion glomming onto the art world? Basel Miami has basically turned into a party scene.
I have to say that I don’t know the last time I actually went to an art fair. I mean, I’m in New York for a week, but I know goddamn well I’m not going to Frieze. I would love to if they would let me in with, like, five other people. But I don’t actually like seeing art in that scenario because it really is social—extremely social, and it kind of waters down the experience of what it is that you’re standing in front of. I’m sure for other people that’s a nice thing, to see art at a party, but I typically don’t—unless I absolutely have. I don’t do it.
Sunrise Sunset—does that refer to the fall of empires?
I think that Sunrise Sunset is a title that’s super-open. And I kind of like that. It could easily refer to the fall and rise of an entire empire. It could be a bookend. It could be my entire autobiographical archaeology of my day-to-day existence. I drive off the mountain into the city at sunrise. I drive out of the city, up to the mountain at sunset. I have at least an hour, an hour and a half in the car where there’s nothing but contemplation of what it is that I’m doing. And that again just seemed perfect for a show like this. It’s sort of a mixed bag. It is this rise and fall of the contemplation of what it is that I’m actually working on.
There seems to be a very domestic reference in this show. Can you speak a little bit about that and how it’s crept into your work?
The stove in and of itself—I think that I initially started making these stoves on a much smaller scale, and there were two reasons: I grew up on a farm until I was 18, and our entire source of heating for the house was always the wood-burning stove, so at a certain age I was bound to the chores of chopping wood, stacking wood, and starting and maintaining a fire. In ceramics, I started to think specifically about the truncation of things within the stove. What does the fire mean? What is the alchemy of it? And so I really wanted to make my own stove. We started importing these cast-iron stoves that were similar to the ones that my parents had on the farm, and we were burning scrap lumber, we were burning all of our documents, doing all of these things in the studio. After a while I realized that I wanted to make my own. I didn’t want to rely on other people’s cast-iron stoves, so we started making really small ones just out of cardboard and then casting them. And then I realized I wanted to make a monument to that. So this one is, in particular, a large-scale, fully operational stove.
The large fabric pieces of the flag, the fabric paintings, and fabric collages are really based on quilts. I’ve always been somewhat obsessed…they were one of my early visuals, because we lived so close to Lancaster and I had a lot of friends who were Amish. I saw quilts before I saw any sort of Pop art or geometric art. Over time, I really started to like Japanese boro textiles, which are a kind of transformation from the utilitarian to the aesthetic. With boro textiles, when your clothing gets too worn out from working too hard, you turn it into a quilt or a tapestry. It’s this exchange between something that was once used as clothing for something that is looked at as an aesthetic. And I’m doing the exact opposite—we tend to dye, bleach, and paint fabric canvas in the studio almost every day. Then I hand the scraps to my patternmaker and I have her make clothing. I think in many ways I like the universalness of not only formalism but also recognizable icons of use, value, and associations. I like that. Not everything has to be a complete abstract.
Is bleaching for you about creating an absence, or is it about putting something onto fabric?
I think of bleach in both of those terms. I like the deduction of bleach—I like that it’s not an additive, it’s a negative. And that’s something Raf [Simons] and I have talked about at length. Also, bleaching is a destructive process, so you’re riding an extremely fine line of things being broken down and deconstructed. Sometimes the pieces get completely chewed through, and other times we time it just right so that we get these really beautiful washes that are almost like photographic processes that turn into negatives.
Has working with Raf informed your practice in other ways?
I think the project with Raf has confirmed the idea of not following an allegiance to hierarchies within art. Why should making clothing be anything better or worse than making a painting? I understand from the art community why there are differentiations between [those], but I think both Raf and I are huge fans of the idea of working within a Bauhaus mentality, one that has no barriers within genres.
You seem to be able to really draw out the plasticity in everything you work with. What is your approach when you’re bringing a new medium into your practice?
I think a lot of the time it’s already there. Maybe it was something that evolved out of another body of work, or something that was kind of trial and error with something previously. Most of the time that’s how it happens. It’s like working on something that is determined already and trying to work with that, and maybe failure of working with that turns into an entire other body, that the material jumps from one to the other. And then sometimes it’s really a matter of looking at it from a different perspective; that there exists something that’s made out of a certain material that is either functional or already exists, but I kind of like the tonality of it or the meaning of it.
Your pieces are obviously very spatial. Is it challenging to create these in your studio and conceive of how it’s going to exist in a gallery setting?
That’s always the hardest thing. I enjoy the installation process, but I’m not a very good preplanner, and I know some artists work off of a diagram, but that never works for me. I need to be in this phase to see the sights and see the crescendos, to see the breathing room between works. The ceiling here in the 18th Street space is considerably difficult because it’s almost like having a train track or a bridge above you. Even though we made a diagram on a computer and tried to plan, it just never works. It doesn’t work. You can’t do it. For a show like this, it makes me anxious to bring everything in and think that maybe we’ll edit half of it out. We don’t really know. I have to give credit to my gallery for this, because I think it’s a leap of faith to let an artist show all of his work. Maybe three pieces are going to go in. I don’t know until we actually start moving things around. But for me it’s a super-special challenge to get everything in and start to look at it—the demographics of viewing things both on the wall and in the space.
Your work looks at institutions and at the same time a lack thereof, with punk influences. How do you think those forces end up playing out?
I don’t always like making something that’s so didactic that it takes one side or the other. What I like the most is when a piece comes together and it alludes to this scenario of self-reflexive acknowledgment of the negative. I think that the pieces, for a lot of people, are very American. They’re very male. But at the same time, I would hope that you could read the self-reflexivity and criticism of that in the scale and you don’t have tropes or colors or the masculinity of it. I don’t think there’s always proportion to such a degree that it’s reveling. Sometimes it’s reveling in the negative of it.
Today, with the opening of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which runs through May 25, an era will end. The show marks the last staging of one of the art world’s most famously forward-looking events in the Marcel Breuer monolith at Madison Avenue and 75th Street before the museum decamps to its new Meatpacking District digs in the spring of 2015. This year’s BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP-sponsored show boasts works by 103 artists—both emerging, like duo Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst (below), and established, like Sterling Ruby and Gary Indiana (above)—and comprises a dizzying array of mediums and vernaculars. Three curators (Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner) brought in from outside the organization were each tasked with filling one floor of the museum. Style.com sat down with director Adam Weinberg to talk moving, the future, and why three heads are better than one.
On the eve of the last Biennial in the current space, what is the mood? Excitement? Nostalgia?
It’s forward-looking. I think the great thing about the Whitney is while we have a great history, it’s always about looking forward, and it’s an understanding that you always have to embrace where you are now. To keep your eyes on the horizon but not lose track of where you’ve come from. It doesn’t feel nostalgic to me—it feels right.
Did the upcoming relocation lead you to take a different approach to curating this year’s show?
It did. We brought in three outside curators, and each curator was given a floor of the museum. So it’s basically three exhibitions in one that complement one another and connect to one another but are distinct shows.
Was there any interaction between the curators to ensure a somewhat unified final product?
They met with each other; they got to know each other; they talked about artists together. There were some artists whom they all three agreed they were interested in having, and then they would decide who would best belong where. But otherwise, they did it independently.
How much does the space influence the show’s curation?
Quite a bit because it becomes the frame for the show. If you took the same group of artists and installed it in the new space downtown, it would be a different show. It doesn’t mean it’s not similar, but it would feel different. The concept of physical space changes how you experience it.
What is the new downtown location going to afford you for the next Biennial?
A lot of outdoor space. We have 14,000 square feet of it at the new building. And then we have dedicated performing arts space, which could be used for performance or installation or video. It’ll feel very different.
How do you think that the Whitney is going to fit into the largely gallery-driven downtown art dynamic?
I think it will offer a good contrast because the galleries are not primarily devoted to providing a context of work, and they’re not primarily devoted to scholarship. They pick their artists they believe in and they support them, but their primary role in the end is to support their artists and sell their work. We’re not selling the work. Not directly, anyway.
Does public reaction to past Biennials play into your approach to curating?
Never. No. You can’t curate through marketing. We care about the audience, but you have to start with the art, start with the artist. Our job is to get a sense of what’s really happening. And I truly believe that the real audience is people who want to know what’s going on. The audience is determined by the content and character and quality of the work and not by going out and asking people what they want. I mean, there are a lot of museums that now go out and they have all these voting things. That’s fine; that’s their approach. But my approach is what is our mission, what is our history, what is our connection, what drives us? And that is being active, and the visions of artists working in a particular moment. And it brings people out.
Raf Simons Opens His Atelier—and Shares His Label—to Artist Sterling Ruby for the Most Complete Designer/Artist Collaboration Yet-------
On January 15, Raf Simons will show his new men’s collection in Paris. Except it won’t be his name on the label. Or at least, not his alone. “For one season, the brand ‘Raf Simons’ will not exist,” the designer boldly declares. Instead, he’ll be sharing the billing with Sterling Ruby (above, right), “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century,” according to The New York Times. Same could be said for Simons, of course, but, on the surface at least, that looks like the only thing they’d have in common. Whether painted, sculpted, dripped, slopped, or bronzed, Ruby’s work is extravagantly physical, monumentally messy—or messily monumental. Simons’ isn’t. Extravagantly emotional, maybe, but otherwise a masterwork of purity and precision. But we know that surfaces deceive. Designer and artist are, in fact, a perfectly compatible duo. “We have similar sensibilities that surface when we speak about music and art,” Ruby confirms. “And even before our collaborations, we were talking a lot about textiles.”
Those collaborations have included the interior of the Raf Simons store in Tokyo and a handful of outfits from Simons’ first couture show for Dior, which referenced Ruby’s paintings. But this time it’s radically different. “Fashion has a long interest in collaborative situations,” explains Simons, “but what interests me now is to say that this is not just a collaborative thing, not just asking someone in my field to do the knitwear or the bags. This is all the way, all the way. There is not one shirt, one shoe, one sock that is not from our mutual thinking process.”
The challenges such an endeavor presents seem obvious. Geography, for one, when the creative process so physically involves one person based in Antwerp and another in L.A. Simons insists that even if Ruby wasn’t at every fitting, every single decision was made jointly.
Then, on some level, there is surely the issue of dimensionality, meaning the scale of Ruby’s own work versus menswear’s dimensions (there are rumors of a coat composed of seventy-five different types of fabric, which sounds pretty, er, massive). But that was a challenge Simons saw as his own: for the designer to find solutions to technical issues so the artist’s creativity wouldn’t be restricted. “It was less of a challenge than you might think,” Ruby offers. “I have been thinking about my studio as a kind of Bauhaus. In the last couple of years, I have been producing my own work clothes to wear at the studio, work shirts, pants, and jumpsuits. They are made from bleached denim and canvas, materials that I also use to make some of my artworks. In my work I have been thinking about the moment the utilitarian object becomes an aesthetic object.” Continue Reading “Raf Simons Opens His Atelier—and Shares His Label—to Artist Sterling Ruby for the Most Complete Designer/Artist Collaboration Yet” »