os Angeles–based artist Sterling Ruby’s first solo show at Hauser & Wirth was an exhilarating look at 19 recent works. An ambitious venture, it could be viewed as another instance of galleries competing with museums for comprehensive surveys. Ruby effortlessly occupied the vast space with his typically eye-catching, super-size works produced by deploying a mixed bag of references, materials, and disciplines. From sculptures to paintings to a mobile, almost all tilted toward the baroque and grotesque, by way of Mike Kelley and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.
The assertive sculptures, often monochromatic, such as Big Yellow Mama (2013)—an aluminum replica of Alabama’s electric chair made from foam, metal, glazed ceramics, and polymers—were the high points of this elegantly installed exhibition. Huge paintings and cardboard collages added to Ruby’s narrative. The enormous tilted The Cup (2013) and the freestanding Pillars (2014) with their ominous drips of sticky-looking blood-red filaments suggested a kind of contemporary memento mori. And flung over a high pipe, two entangled, skinny, stuffed figures in stars-and-stripes fabric stretched downward into a disconsolate heap on the floor. Playful, caustic, and even poignant at times, Ruby’s work points to a culture that is dysfunctional, if not yet apocalyptic.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 113.