Chicago

Nancy Rubins

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Nancy Rubins’ ebullient sculpture seems to drag everything along with it. In its explosive, turbulent gestures, Rubins’ work can be aligned to the esthetic of the Baroque: theatrical in effect, her sprawling sculptures create a sense of vertigo. All curves and diagonals, Rubins’ works form jagged, spiraling silhouettes that frustrate any attempt to locate a frontal or primary view. Her work is outsize, crackling with so much energy that it seems to continually shift and churn, to temporarily defy gravity. Drawings and Hot Water Heaters, 1992, (reconfigured by the artist each time it is installed) has a sprightly monumentality that cuts boldly through space. Here, it seemed to press against the walls and ceiling, attempting to defy the constraints of the rectilinear space.

The title of this piece is fully descriptive; nearly twenty battered and rusted hot-water heaters were precariously tied together with wire cable into a complex and top-heavy assemblage, the entire erratic mélange capped by a raiment of large, heavy sheets of paper, seemingly carelessly strewn on top, which were covered in the glossy graphite residue of Rubins’ obsessive and repetitive drawings. These lead-gray drawings fell over the water heaters like ill-fitting drapery, their almost rhythmic cascade no match for the upward thrust of the clustered metal cylinders.

Rubins’ drawings seem both random and precisely determined; their subject is the activity of drawing itself, her furious scribbling a strange obfuscation. Her use of these sheets as crucial elements in her sculpture takes drawing down from the wall and succeeds in turning it into a dynamic spatial element. Bruised remnants of ’70s technology and design strategy, some of these hot-water heaters still have nameplates that describe them as “aristocrat” models while others display their manufacturer’s warning labels—complete with statistics about energy efficiency that testify to the instant obsolescence of modern engineering. In poignant contrast to their abject disintegration, the dents and scratches mask an upbeat ’70s palette of golden yellows, chocolate browns, sky blues, and creamy whites. Though the sheer spectacle of Rubins’ sculptures is the most striking thing about these works, the technological commentary that underlies them gives them added resonance.

James Yood