Critics’ Picks

View of “Sterling Ruby,” 2016

View of “Sterling Ruby,” 2016


Sterling Ruby

The Winterpalais of Prince Eugene of Savoy
Himmelpfortgasse 8
July 7–October 16, 2016

Gold leaf meets synthetic fiber, wood marquetry meets Formica, and steel meets oil paint: In the Winter Palace of the Belvedere, Sterling Ruby collides with the Late Baroque opulence marking the residence of Prince Eugene, field commander and diplomat for the Habsburgs. With works ranging from mobiles to sculptures to wall hangings, the artist not only contrasts the historic masonry on a material level with the everyday of the twenty-first century but also carries that past thematically into the now.

In the antechamber are two CANDLES,—both 2015, elongated fabric sculptures—one standing on end, the other laid flat—printed with a stars-and-stripes pattern. Neither the banality of these soft sculptures nor their seemingly peripheral presentation in the vestibule hides the fact that they provide the rhythm for the entire exhibition. Again and again, American pragmatism encounters European pathos, not least in the series “ACTS,” 2015–2016: colored liquid poured into urethane blocks painted violet, green, red, and blue, around which swirls the brocade on the walls of the Blue Salon, Eugene’s highest-ranking reception hall. Meanwhile, Ruby’s “MS” series, 2010—welded pieces of metal reminiscent of constructivist weapons—occupies a room dedicated to gold-framed battle scenes in oil on linen from the eighteenth century.

Ruby produced four “FLAGS,” 2016, specially for the exhibition: large-format quilts made of bleached denim and fleece that serve as emphatic counterpoints to the Green Salon and the Library Hall in which they hang. There is, however, no better place for them than the Winter Palace, which, with all its embellishments and decorations, here becomes a compelling intersection of art and handicraft. Opposites attract.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.