Into: Sterling Ruby’s Psychedelic Easter Island Heads

Published March 20, 2019

SKULL (6385), 2018 © Sterling Ruby. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

“Into” is a series dedicated to objects, artworks, garments, exhibitions, and all orders of things that we are into — and there really isn’t a lot more to it than that. Today: Thom Bettridge reflects briefly on a titillating series of wigged creatures by the artist Sterling Ruby.

I’M INTO Sterling Ruby’s SKULLS because I’ve always wondered what a sequel of Jurassic Park styled by Walter van Beirendonck would look like. The American artist unveiled this new series of sculptures at his recent exhibition Damnation. The centerpiece of the show at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles, which closes on Saturday, is another new work by Ruby called STATE, a video that continues the artist’s more than decade-long fascination with mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex. These sculptures serve as a kind of aesthetic foil to the film, which features aerial views of 35 city-like prisons throughout California. Rather than a desert of concrete and barbed wire, Ruby’s SKULLS map out the more playful authoritarian hellscapes that exist within our culture. Fossil-like yet monumentally displayed, they appear like Easter Island heads left behind by a civilization raised on Duck Dynasty, Jolly Ranchers, and Mountain Dew. If the last three years of American politics have taught us anything, it’s this: the apocalypse is going to look a lot more like a T-Rex in drag than anything you’ll see in Mad Max.

Installation view, Sterling Ruby, DAMNATION, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles © Sterling Ruby. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.