Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
February 13–March 23, 2019
Los Angeles

Since the early 2000s, Sterling Ruby has developed an eclectic and uncompromising practice that has mined the triumphs, tragedies, and peculiarities of the American experience across an ever-evolving range of media. Finding a tensile balance between chaos and order, grand and intimate gestures, and high and pop cultural references, Ruby’s paintings, sculptures, ceramics, collages, textiles, and videos expose the cracks within many of the aesthetic and social constructs we take for granted as fixed or immovable. Uniting his work is an overarching compendium of visual archetypes that continue to unfold into a distinct and rich artistic vocabulary. Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers are proud to present DAMNATION, the artist’s fifth solo exhibition with Sprüth Magers and his first at the Los Angeles gallery.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is STATE (2019), a single-channel video projection that the artist has spent the past five years researching and producing, working with a videographer and helicopter pilot to film aerial views of the 35 adult state prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Ruby transforms the ground floor gallery into a giant black-box theater, immersing viewers within the artist’s ongoing investigations into the California prison system as both allegory and atrocity.

 

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In the video, we see prisons dotted across the landscape of California; rolling hills, deserts, forests, farmland and rural areas open up onto sites that resemble cities, often with populations the size of small towns. Connections can also be drawn to the ways in which war zones and conflict areas are shown in the media, via distanced surveillance footage or drone reconnaissance. A repetitive, structural rhythm is created as the video cuts back and forth between the landscapes and the sites of the prison grounds. We are confronted with the stark contrast between the majesty of the expansive landscapes and the massive institutional architecture of the prisons.

The artist has taken cues from Bruce Nauman’s video installation Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer), in which a young man is shown frenetically playing a drum set. Here, Ruby himself has composed and performed the accompanying drum track. The drumming also acts as an uncomfortable and insistent disruption. The soundtrack slows as the video progresses, ending as a heartbeat, and suggesting the distortion or elongation of the passage of time.

Both the medium of video and the architecture of prisons have been subjects for the artist for nearly two decades. In his previous videos, Ruby has played with questions of criminality and confinement, sometimes performing himself in situations that approached, but always ultimately suspended, narrative. In early collage works, Ruby explored the structures of the prison tier system as defined in both physical and psychological space. And in SUPERMAX 2008, the artist’s first major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the artist correlated the architecture of the museum with that of the California prison system. SUPERMAX was a reference to American maximum-security prisons, where prisoners in solitary confinement can be on lockdown for up to 23 hours a day. In all of these works, the artist connects a state of mind with the state of incarceration. A deep-felt sympathy to the injustice of these institutions coincides with a psychological understanding of the power wielded by these systems, and how this shapes the American psyche.

In the upstairs gallery, the artist presents SKULLS, a new body of sculptural works. These oversized, animal-like skulls are in fact facsimiles of the underlying armatures of Hollywood special effects creatures. Some of their surfaces are realistically bone-like, while others are obsidian, and some appear raw and mottled as if their skin has been removed. Ruby has overlaid each with large, brightly colored wigs and eyes that add an element of levity to the apotropaic beasts. Their bared teeth and bulging eyes, evoking exaggerated and heightened emotions, also resemble the Hannya masks of Japanese Noh theater. In the context of the exhibition, and its title DAMNATION, they also recall Cerberus, the mythological multi-headed dog who guards the gates to the Underworld. The sculptures act as harbingers, standing at the crossroads between life and death. Fierce, if also rife with fantasy, they present a departure for Ruby and a counterpoint to the austere and disquieting imagery of STATE.

One hundred percent of the artist's exhibition proceeds from STATE will be contributed to the ACLU of Southern California, an organization with initiatives to end mass incarceration.

 

Installation Views
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Details
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
DAMNATION
Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, February 13–March 23, 2019
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Details
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1 of 4
Exhibited Works
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019
More views

Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019
Single-channel video, with sound
33:11 min

More views
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6385), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6385), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6386), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6386), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6900), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6900), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6910), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6910), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 144.8 × 144.8 cm
37 × 57 × 57 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6984), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6984), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6985), 2018

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6985), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby
TWINS, 2018

Sterling Ruby
TWINS, 2018
Resin, urethane, foam, fabric and yarn
Skull 1: 78.1 × 82.6 × 149.2 cm
Skull 2: 114.3 × 76.2 × 138.4 cm
Skull 1: 30 3/4 × 32 1/2 × 58 3/4 inches
Skull 2: 31 /14 × 30 × 54 1/2 inches

Details
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019
Single-channel video, with sound
33:11 min

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019 (detail)

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019 (detail)

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles
Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
STATE, 2019 (detail)

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6385), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6386), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6900), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6910), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 144.8 × 144.8 cm
37 × 57 × 57 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6984), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
SKULL (6985), 2018
Resin, urethane, fiberglass, aluminum, and yarn
94 × 76.2 × 137.2 cm
37 × 30 × 54 inches

Sterling Ruby – DAMNATION – Los Angeles

Sterling Ruby
TWINS, 2018
Resin, urethane, foam, fabric and yarn
Skull 1: 78.1 × 82.6 × 149.2 cm
Skull 2: 114.3 × 76.2 × 138.4 cm
Skull 1: 30 3/4 × 32 1/2 × 58 3/4 inches
Skull 2: 31 /14 × 30 × 54 1/2 inches

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 8

 

Selected Press

Exclusive: Watch a Film About California’s Prison System by Sterling Ruby
AnOther Magazine, interview by Belle Huxton, May 20, 2020

Sterling Ruby
Artforum, review by Christina Catherine Martinez, May 2019

Into: Sterling Ruby’s Psychedelic Easter Island Heads
Interview, article by Thom Bettridge, March 20, 2019

Sterling Ruby’s Damnation at Sprüth Magers
Art and Cake, review by Shana Nys Dambrot, March 19, 2019

Sterling Ruby at Sprüth Magers
Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, review by Aaron Horst, February 27, 2019

Sterling Ruby, a volo d’angelo sulle prigioni della California
ELLE Decor, article by Stefano Annovazzi Lodi, February 26, 2019

Sci-Fi Mosquitos & Smoke: 7 Cinematic Exhibitions Around the Globe
Cultured Magazine, article, February 22, 2019

Sterling Ruby’s Aerial Portrait of California’s Endless Prison System
AnOther Magazine, interview with Mimi Zeiger and text by Sophie Bew, February 18, 2019

Sterling Ruby Examines the Prison-Industrial Complex in New Video
ARTnews, review by Andrew Russeth, February 13, 2019