Los Angeles

Nancy Rubins

It’s an understatement to note that the world changed profoundly between the completion of Nancy Rubins’s latest work and its unveiling on September 13. The ways in which we relate to works of art have changed in varying degrees since September 11, but the effect is particularly dear in the case of the lone piece comprising Rubins’s show—a gargantuan assemblage of jumbled airplane fragments.

The title of the work—Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space—provides as good a nutshell description as any. Roughly twenty-five feet high and fifty-four feet wide at its broadest, the piece barely fit in the white-cube gallery, doing as great sculpture often does: claiming the space as its own and commanding it. The base and armature is a trussed column of welded stainless steel tubing—a relatively nimble footing for the mass that sprouts from it. Assembled from various stabilizers, wing sections, nose cones, pipes, fuselage chunks, and other random parts, all held tenuously in place by an improvised web of twisted wire, the piece is a monument of stored energy. Meanwhile, its dynamic form, which grows widest toward the top, is an inversion of the shape generated when a mass of parts is left to inertia and entropy: the pile. Two primary appendages thrusting outward and upward from the center and sweeping back suggest wings, and a reading of the work that includes references to the Nike of Samothrace is hardly a stretch, though it might be reaching beyond the artist’s intention.

Rubins’s piece is made from what is immediately recognizable as salvaged scraps of small aircraft, not jets, but the work can’t help but blur with the hijackings in the heavy associative haze hanging over virtually every aspect of culture. To see this work as a kind of phoenix figure or a quasi-anthropomorphic expression of triumph over tragedy may be indefensible, in light of its completion date, but to allow it to attain and bear its public meaning against the backdrop of a changed and ever-changing world is well within reason and, in fact, extends a challenge in which the work reveals its strength and significance. It shows itself able to function as a flexible vehicle for themes and concerns both timely and timeless; it’s as evocative of airplane disasters as of the fall of Icarus. Like many of Rubins’s past works, this sculpture taps into far-reaching preoccupations and anxieties regarding production, consumption, destruction, and waste, as well as aspiration and failure in all their manifestations-concerns arguably as old as civilization itself, but lately boiling just under society’s skin.

Christopher Miles