Critics’ Picks

View of “I am not free because I can be exploded anytime,” 2011.

View of “I am not free because I can be exploded anytime,” 2011.


Sterling Ruby

Sprüth Magers | Berlin
Oranienburger Straße 18
April 8–May 28, 2011

In his latest exhibition and first curated project room at Sprüth Magers, Sterling Ruby seems to tell us that we should fear our own paranoia. Ruby borrowed his solo show’s title (“I am not free because I can be exploded anytime”) from a 1983 painting by Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink, which he hangs in the group show alongside sensual, cherry-red sculptures by his other two major influences––Robert Morris and Rosemarie Trockel. The incongruous collaboration between Pink and Holzer yielded the wall-size canvas displaying the latter’s characteristically cryptic phrase in yellow text over a scene, spray-painted by Pink, of bodies in despair. The tension between their opposing styles inspired Ruby, and the title has taken on new layers of meaning for him since he began to explore America’s increasing paranoia and fearmongering.

The intimidating scale, arresting materials, and intense presentation of Ruby’s own sculptures are unnerving. Cases in point are three enormous red, white, and blue lips fashioned from stuffed cloth that hang under the immensely high ceiling, brandishing cloth teeth and dripping bloodlike droplets also made of cloth. Although they are overtly harmless, they are surely ominous. The only pieces that deviate from the Los Angeles–based artist’s stars-and-stripes color scheme are a series of seven collages consisting of glossy photographs of outer space assembled on large sheets of Day-Glo orange paper along with occasional dirt smears and packages from two types of asthma medication prescribed to Ruby. The not-so-subtle subtext is that we respond to impending environmental doom by becoming breathless, and then we medicate the symptoms of stress instead of accepting that the vastness and mysteriousness of the issues confronting us consign our fate to the unknowable cosmos. So, as individuals, we should relax. If we can.