ancy Rubins’s exhibition, titled “Our Friend Fluid Metal,” featured four huge sculptures made of recycled playground toys dating from the late 1940s and early ’50s. Accumulations of rusty painted animals, each connected to a bouncy spring, they seemed as buoyant as balloons. Lashed together with an intricate webbing of steel cables and trusses, cantilevered with the help of a structural engineer, the largest piece, measuring 17 by 42 by 24 feet and weighing ten tons, loomed ominously overhead. As formal as Rubins’s art has become, it was impossible not to relate it to tornadoes, tsunamis, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the Wizard of Oz.
Conceptually the recycled aluminum is a logical next step for this California artist, known for her sculptural projections of scrap airplane parts. The postwar playground animals were made from aluminum recycled from World War II military airplanes, discovered for sale in the Mojave Desert. Rubins, who has been working with metal trash since the 1970s, has been a forerunner in the recent artistic focus on trash—the inevitable third step in the 20th century dialectic of production and consumption. In one sense, the emotional resonance of this new series is nearly nil. Yet in another, Rubins’s work speaks to the material and organic instabilities of our increasingly precarious environment and adds to the global alarm: we’re not in Kansas anymore.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 112.