Los Angeles

Nancy Rubins

Burnett Miller Gallery

Table and Airplane Parts, 1990, was the title of the first of a trio of pieces, each occupying its own room, that comprised Nancy Rubins’ recent show. Installed in the gallery’s large, concrete, bunkerlike front room, the work consisted of a gigantic tumble of crumpled airplane parts: wings, doors, ducts, metal sinks, turbines, etc., bound together with lengths of wire. Bunches of severed cables dangled from the wreckage like bouquets of snakes. (Dirt still clung to some of the plane fragments.) At one end of the piece, plane parts seemed to rest on or stem from an unpainted wooden table, and grease-pencil markings on many of the metal chunks suggested the notations of plane-crash investigators or assembly directions for the fabrication of the sculpture itself. The installation functioned as a weird monument, a several-ton puzzle with a twisted-up, paradoxical grace. Some of the metal plane parts were so crushed that they ended up looking intentionally folded, as though made of giant sheets of dull-colored origami paper. The piece evoked a little of the terror of a crash site, but most of the tragic reverberations felt by viewers when taking in this installation were amusingly derailed by Rubins’ insertion of the worktable into the scene. Its slightly jarring presence enabled one to consider other, less overtly emotional interpretations. For instance, the piece could have been an evolved version of the oft-painted groupings of water glasses, vases, and fruit on a plain table—a kind of chaotic contemporary still life.

In the back gallery a heap of cylindrical water heaters, entitled Drawings and Water Heaters, 1992, were also wired together into a sprawling configuration. Rubins understands the bizarre beauty of a profusion of discarded man-made objects—damaged, rusty, corroded, towering—looking forlorn and sometimes toxic, innocent and accusing. Several huge drawings were limply draped over the water-heater mound like giant squares of American cheese ready to melt. The drawings were made on roughly cut rectangles of thick paper, obsessively scribbled over hundreds of times with what must be an endless hoard of pencils. The results resembled sheets of pewter-colored skin: the drawn-on sides look like mica—gray with a flat sheen—but if you glanced at them from certain angles you could see the abruptly changing directions of individual layers of scribbling. Drawings, 1990–91, consisted of smaller, but otherwise similar, solid, silvery graphite drawings pushpinned in six stacks to the walls of the gallery’s middle room.

Rubins’ accumulations of thin layers of furiously applied graphite that shimmer like fish scales as well as her piles of metal vehicle parts or appliances, were commanding and intriguing. Table and Airplane Parts and Drawings and Water Heaters seemed to be gargantuan cairns or collective identity badges for the absent acquirers of all these crazed, dented results of unchecked manufacturing and near-instantaneous obsolescence.

Amy Gerstler