Sterling Ruby

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Sterling Ruby
Born 1972 (age 42–43)
Bitburg, West Germany
Nationality American
Education Art Center College of Design, The Art Institute of Chicago
Known for Artist, Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Photography, Video, Performance

Sterling Ruby (born 1972) is an American artist, who lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Early life and career[edit]

Sterling Ruby was born on an American military base in Bitburg, Germany to a Dutch mother and an American father. His family relocated to the United States shortly after his birth, first to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to the rural town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania. There he attended the largely agrarian Kennard-Dale High School. After graduating from high school, Ruby worked in construction in Washington D.C.[1]

While living in Pennsylvania, Ruby attended the then three year NASAD accredited art school, The Pennsylvania School of Art and Design, (now the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, PCA&D). From Pennsylvania, the artist relocated to Illinois where in 2001 he received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2003, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the MFA program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. While at Art Center he studied with artist Richard Hawkins, and theorists Sylvère Lotringer and Laurence Rickels. While attending graduate school at Art Center he was the teaching assistant for artist Mike Kelley. In 2005, he failed to receive his master’s degree; while his advisory committee supported the merit of his final project, Ruby neglected to turn in his thesis.[2]

Early in his career, Ruby shared a studio with a revolving cast of 10 to 15 other young artists — including Amanda Ross-Ho, Brenna Youngblood, and Aaron Curry — in the Hazard Park neighborhood.[3]

Sterling Ruby currently lives and works in Los Angeles.[4] He lives in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and maintains a studio in Vernon, south of downtown Los Angeles.[5][6]


Sterling Ruby, EHXM, exterior view, Hauser & Wirth, London, 2013

Sterling Ruby works in a large variety of media including ceramics, painting, collage and video. Often, his work is presented in large and densely packed installations. In opposition to the minimalist artistic tradition and influenced by the ubiquity of urban graffiti, the artist’s works often appear scratched, defaced, camouflaged, dirty, or splattered. Proclaimed as one of the most interesting artists to emerge in the twentieth century by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, Ruby’s work examines the psychological space where individual expression confronts social constraint.[7][8]


The artist has cited a diverse range of sources and influences including aberrant psychologies (particularly schizophrenia and paranoia), urban gangs and graffiti, hip-hop culture, craft, punk, masculinity, violence, public art, prisons, globalization, American domination and decline, waste and consumption. The author and psychologist Robert Jay Lifton, the “broken window theory” of the social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, cultural anthropologist Lorna Rhodes author of Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison, and the novelists Joyce Carol Oates and Harry Crews have also proved to be early influences.[9]

Supermax 2008[edit]

Sterling Ruby, SUPERMAX 2008, installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Pacific Design Center

For "Supermax 2008", a solo exhibition curated by Philipp Kaiser at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’s Pacific Design Center, Ruby correlated the architecture of the museum with the architecture of the California prison system.

"Supermax" is a reference to the special units of American maximum security prisons where prisoners in solitary confinement can be on lockdown for up to 23 hours a day. The dense installation of "SUPERMAX 2008" included poured urethane sculptures, aerosol paintings, geometric sculptures made of formica or brass, and soft sculptures in the form of blood drops and collages. The expressive exhibition distanced the artist's work from the ideology of Minimal art and integrated the seemingly disparate artworks included in Ruby’s art practice.[10]

Monument Stalagmites[edit]

The artist has created a series of large, poured urethane sculptures, collectively titled Monument Stalagmites, in blood red, intense blacks, and other vibrant colors. These sculptures, which can be up to eighteen feet tall, resemble the stalactites and stalagmites that can be found in caves. The pieces are created by the accumulation and pouring of a quick drying poly-urethane over an underlying armature. The pieces are presented on bases and have a wooden buttress, often inscribed with text, that the artist refers to as a crutch. They have been described as monumental gestures and reflect the artist’s declared intention to depict the moment when malleability becomes frozen.[11]


Basin Theology/Talwin+Ritalin Sterling Ruby, Ceramic, 2013

A prominent component of his oeuvre, Sterling Ruby’s ceramic work is informed by the California craft movement and German "hot lava" vessels from the 1970s as well as by the amateurish biomorphic shapes made in an art therapy class. His ceramic works feature thick, vivid glazes and charred and gouged surfaces on rudimentary forms resembling baskets, vessels, or body parts. In his Basin Theology series, basin-like vessels are filled with recycled fragments of earlier destroyed or damaged works. These works reference archaeological excavation sites. The fragmented pieces meld together with the application of glazes and repeated firing in the kiln.[12]


SP181 Sterling Ruby, 2011

Of all the disparate forms in Ruby’s practice, his paintings are the most formally abstract. They are all titled with the initials SP and then a number. His large color-field canvases, made entirely with spray paint, use a color palette ranging from deep blacks to acid greens and pinks, and appear hallucinogenic and gauzy. The paintings are influenced by the sociological implications of urban demarcation, vandalism and the power struggles associated with gang tagging. The artist has suggested that layers of gang tagging in Los Angeles, evidence of clashes over territory, eventually turn abstract, ceasing to have a clear order, and in the end losing their original meanings and authority.[13]


EXCAVATOR DIG SITE Sterling Ruby, Bronze, 2010

Ruby's large bronze sculptures are generally poured in smaller sections, which he then joins together in an almost quilt-like fashion. Traditionally, bronze casting foundries grind the joining welds out of the final sculpture to hide this step in the fabrication process. For his large bronze sculptures, Ruby forgoes grinding the welds, which retain a rainbow patina.

Cardboard collages[edit]

EXHM (3915) Sterling Ruby, Collage, 2012

His cardboard collages are titled EXHM, which stands for Exhumation. The artist has been repurposing the large cardboard pieces used to protect the studio floor from the urethane that is poured during the creation of his urethane sculptures. Cutting into the cardboard and rearranging formal compositions he finalizes the works by inserting pictures of burial grounds, prescription packages and other found images as a way of creating an autobiographical archeology or dig site.[12]

Bleach collages[edit]

BC (3549) Sterling Ruby, Collage, 2011

His bleached denim and canvas collages are titled BC which refers simply to Bleach Collage, but also references the art historical dating reference BC (Before Christ) or BCE (Before the Common Era). For this series of works, the artist repurposes rags, fabric scraps, clothing, and denim that have personal as well as studio history. These patchwork collages are playful, almost pop-like, resembling the craft of quilt making. These works reference the utilitarian beauty of Gee’s Bend quilts as well as Japanese Boro textiles.

Collaborations with Raf Simons[edit]

In 2008 Sterling Ruby designed the interior for clothing designer Raf Simons’ Tokyo store, using images of bleached fabric to create a splattered wallpaper that covered its walls and ceilings.[14]

In 2009, Simons used denim bleached by the artist to create a collection of denim wear jeans and jackets.

In 2012, Simons created satin fabrics with images of four of Sterling Ruby’s recent paintings. Raf Simons created three dresses and a coat from these fabrics. They were presented as part of Raf Simons’ debut haute couture collection for Dior. In 2013, these dresses were exhibited as part of the Esprit Dior exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai.[15]

On January 15, 2014, Ruby and Simons collaborated on Raf Simons/Sterling Ruby Fall/Winter 2014 menswear collection presented during Paris Fashion Week.[16]


Sterling Ruby, SOFT WORK, installation view, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden, 2012

Ruby has exhibited at institutions including the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, Moscow; Saatchi Gallery, London; MACRO, Rome; Baibokov Projects, Moscow and Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

In addition to his solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles ("SUPERMAX 2008"), Ruby has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Drawing Center, New York; La Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy; FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Riems, France and the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland; Kunsthalle Mainz, Germany; and Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden.


Ruby’s work is in international collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; Seattle Art Museum, Washington; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Tate Modern, London. [17][18]

Public works[edit]

DSM-IV-TR/FEEDFACE #654321 installed at Lustwarande'11, Tilburg, The Netherlands

In 2011, the artist presented a set of large free standing sculptures in a public square in Lisbon, Portugal. One of the pieces presented was a large painted metal structure made up of individually stacked monoliths. This piece was later exhibited in a sculpture garden in the Netherlands. As part of this exhibition the artist encouraged visitors to deface the sculpture with their own graffiti.

In an interview with Steve Pulimood, the artist said, "Over the past few years I’ve done many sculptures that have had inscribed surfaces, gestures on a surface that are not only mediated by me the artist, but also by the public that has access to it. I have seen Serras with that kind of tagging, and for me it informs that irrational feeling you just mentioned … it makes the work itself more vulnerable. I’ve always liked that antagonism that public sculpture provides."[14]

Art market[edit]

Ruby is represented by Sprüth Magers, Hauser & Wirth and Xavier Hufkens. Previously he had been working with Marc Foxx Gallery in Los Angeles as well as with Metro Pictures and Pace Gallery in New York.[19]

Ruby's Berlin gallery, Sprüth Magers, sold several pieces from the "Supermax" exhibit to British art collector Charles Saatchi, who subsequently auctioned them off at a profit.[20]


Installation View of Vampire at Pace Beijing, 2011

DEPART Foundation, NERO. Anamericana. Translated by Emilia Griffin. Rome: NERO, 2013. Exhibition catalog.

Amirsadeghi, Hossein, ed., Art studio America: Contemporary Artist Spaces, 130-5. Farnborough, England: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2013.

Henatsch, Martin, ed., Back to Earth. Neumünster, Germany: Wachholtz, 2013. Exhibition catalog.

Holzwarth, Hans Werner, ed., ART NOW : Vol. 4, 362-5. London: Taschen, 2013.

Ruby, Sterling. Stoves & Quilts. Brussels, Belgium: Pierre Marie Giraud, 2013. Exhibition catalog.

Tinari, Philip. Sterling Ruby. Translated by Jihyun Ha. Seoul: Kukje Gallery, 2013. Exhibition catalog.

Deitch, Jeffrey., and Museum of Contemporary Art. The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol. Edited by Nikki Columbus. New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2012. Exhibition catalog.

Toyota Municipal Museum of Art. Works in Ceramics 2011. Tokyo: Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Driessen, Chris, ed., Raw Stardust: Excursions in Contemporary Sculpture II, 88-9. Tilburg, Netherlands: Fundament Foundation, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Roselione-Valadez, Juan, ed., American Exuberance. Miami: Rubell Family Collection, Contemporary Arts Foundation, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Burnett, Craig., Dario Gamboni, Jerry Saltz, and White Cube. Structure & Absence. London: White Cube, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Mapplethorpe, Robert., Richard Flood, and Robert Mapplethorpe Foundatio. MX7: MapplethorpeX7 David Hockney, Vik Muniz, Catherine Opie, Sterling Ruby, CIndy Sherman, Hedi Slimane, Robert Wilson, 125-52. Kempen, Germany: Te Neues Pub. Group, 2011.

Nunez-Fernandez, Lupe., David Altmejd, John Baldessari, David Batchelor, Matthew Brannon, Peter Buggenhout, Björn Dahlem, et al. The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture, 320-43. London: Saatchi Gallery, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., and Galerie Xavier Hufkens. Sterling Ruby : Paintings. Brussels, Belgium: Xavier Hufkens, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., and The Pace Gallery. Sterling Ruby: Desktop Vol.1. Beijing: The Pace Gallery, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Schlegell, Mark A Von., and CAPC Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux. New Dystopia. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Schwabsky, Barry. Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting, 260-1. London: Phaidon, 2011.

Stoltz, Liv. Eslov Wide Shut. Eslöv, Sweden: Eslöv Kommun, 2011. Exhibition catalog.

Pace Gallery. 50 years at Pace, 276-7. New York: Pace Gallery, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Jancou, Marc, ed., Pickford, Susan, trans., Rive gauche Rive droite, 72-9. Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Kleeman, Birte., and Prism. Misericordia: Prism, 24 September-4 December 2010. West Hollywood, CA: Prism, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Kouzelē, Barmpara., Elina Giannitsiōtē, and Lina Markopoulou, and Gkaleri Jean Bernier-Marina Eliade. Bernier-Eliades Gallery, 1999-2009, 294-297. Athens, Greece: Agra Publications, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Madesta, Andrea., and Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie. Permanent Trouble: Recent Art from the Kopp Collection, Munich. Cologne, Germany: Snoeck, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Rabottini, Alessandro., and Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. Mimesi Permanente: An Exhibition About Simulation and Realism. Milan: Electa, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Rubin, David S., Robert C Morgan, Daniel Pinchbeck, San Antonio Museum of Art, University of Rochesteret, Memorial Art Gallery, and Telfair Museum of Art. Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art Since the 1960s. San Antonio, TX: San Antonio Museum of Art, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., Robert Mapplethorpe, and Galerie Xavier Hufkens. Sterling Ruby, Robert Mapplethorpe. Brussels, Belgium: Xavier Hufkens, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., and Kate Fowle. Sterling Ruby: Ashtrays. Translated by Eva Lothar. Brussels, Belgium: Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud, 2010. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., and Taka Ishii Gallery. Sterling Ruby Ceramics 2007-2010. Tokyo: Taka Ishii Gallery, 2010.

Werner, Henry. Modern Art for Sale: Die bedeutendsten Kunstmessen der Welt, 204. Düsseldorf, Germany: Feymedia Verlagsgesellschaft, 2010.

Institute of Contemporary Art. Dirt on Delight: Impulses that form Clay. Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Philadelphia, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Grayson, Kathy, ed., New York Minute: Sixty Artists on the New York Scene. Los Angeles: OHWOW, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Altfest, Ellen., Shelly Bancroft, Peter T Nesbett, and Rebecca Sears. Diaries of a Young Artist, 45-7. New York: Darte Publishing, 2009.

Baibakova, Maria., and Kate Sutton. Five. Moscow: Just Design/Rost Media, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Ellegood, Anne., and Nancy Adajania. Vitamin 3-D: New Perspectives in Sculpture and Installation, 256-9. London: Phaidon, 2009.

Heiser, Jörg., Robert Carleton Hobbs, Alessandro Rabottini, Sterling Ruby, and Catherine Taft. Sterling Ruby. Edited by Alessandro Rabottini. Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Nickas, Robert. Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting, 220-3. London: Phaidon, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Roselione-Valadez, Juan., Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, David Moos, Karl Haendel, Thomas Houseago, and Rubell Family Collection. Beg Borrow and Steal. Miami: Rubell Family Collection, 2009. Exhibition catalog.

Fowle, Kate, ed., Stray Alchemists, 93-108. Beijing: Timezone 8, 2008. Exhibition catalog.

Kaiser, Philipp. Sterling Ruby: Supermax 2008. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008. Exhibition catalog.

Øvstebø, Solveig., Steinar Sekkingstad, Melissa Gronlund, and Bergen kunsthall. If You Destroy The Image, You’ll Destroy The Thing Itself, 31-49. Bergen, Norway: Bergen Kunsthall, 2008. Exhibition catalog.

Ruby, Sterling., and João Ribas. Drawing Papers 76: Sterling Ruby Chron. Edited by Adam Lehner. New York: The Drawing Center, 2008. Exhibition catalog.

Furness, Rosalind, ed., Frieze Art Fair Yearbook 2007-8. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007. Exhibition catalog.

Coetzee, Mark., Michael Darling, and Michael Holte. Red Eye: L.A. Artists from the Rubell Collection, 72-5. Miami: Rubell Family Collection, 2007. Exhibition catalog.

Armstrong, Elizabeth., Rita González, Karen Moss, Kristin Chambers, and Orange County Museum of Art. California Biennial 2006. Newport Beach, CA: Orange County Museum of Art, 2006. Exhibition catalog.

Snellman, Natascha Sofia. I Heart Darkness. Los Angeles: 2nd Cannons, 2006.

Rabelais, François., and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. The Pantagruel syndrome : T1 Torino Triennale Tremusei, 2005, 404-7. Milan: Skira, 2005. Exhibition catalog.

Further reading[edit]

Sterling Ruby's Vampire. David Spalding, November 8, 2011. [1]

The Principles of Eternity. Rachel Corbett, [2]

Art in Review: Sterling Ruby and Lucio Fontana. Ken Johnson, The New York Times, September 22, 2011. [3]

The Promised Land? Will Portugal Arte 10 Become a Fixture on the Art World Calendar? Marina Cashdan,, August 3, 2010. [4]

Carol Bove, Sterling Ruby, Dana Schutz. Merrily Kerr, Time Out New York, Issue 775, 2010.[5]

The Masculine Mystique: Houseago, Ruby & Kyack, Degan Pener, Paul Young, Andrew Berardini, Angeleno Magazine, April 7, 2010 [6]

Sterling Ruby: Sincerely Hostile, João Ribas, Flash Art int. Ed., XLIII.271, Mar.- Apr. 2010: 80-84. [7]

Best in Show/Sterling Ruby's Cage Heat, Linda Yablonsky, T Magazine, The New York Times Style Magazine, February 11, 2010 [8]

New York Times Round Up: Make Room for Video, Performances and Paint. Roberta Smith, The New York Times, December 31, 2009 [9]

Unearthed Classics and Reinvented Forms: The Best Art of 2009. Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine, December 20, 2009 [10]

Sterling Ruby, Kevin West, W Magazine, November 2009 [11]

New Photography 2009, Museum of Modern Art, New York. MoMA Multimedia Video Interview [12]

Weekend Update, Walter Robinson, artnet Magazine, June 2009 [13]

Who is Sterling Ruby? Julian Myers, Frieze Magazine, April 2009 [14]

Brief Reflection on Sterling Ruby. Ed Schad. I call it ORANGES blog, July 22, 2008 [15]

Art in Review, Sterling Ruby, Chron, Kiln Works, Roberta Smith, The New York Times, March 21, 2008 [16]


  1. ^ Peter Yeoh (2010). "Artistic Transgressor". Glass Magazine (4): 179. ISSN 2041-6318. 
  2. ^ Kevin West (May 9, 2014), Sterling Ruby: Balancing Act W.
  3. ^ Kevin West (May 9, 2014), Sterling Ruby: Balancing Act W.
  4. ^ Foxy Production, Artist Bio, Sterling Ruby
  5. ^ Sterling Ruby: Vivids, September 13 - October 25, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.
  6. ^ Georgina Adam (November 29, 2013), The Art Market: Sprüth Magers to open Los Angeles gallery Financial Times.
  7. ^ Smith, Roberta "Art in Review, Sterling Ruby" New York Times, March 21, 2008 page E29
  8. ^ Sterling Ruby. Robert Hobbs, Jorg Heiser, Alessandro Rabottini and Sterling Ruby. Bergamo: Gallery d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Bergamo, 2009.
  9. ^ Kate Fowle, ed. Stray Alchemists. Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2008
  10. ^ Schad, Ed. Sterling Ruby: Supermax 2008. ArtReview Magazine, September 23, 2008.
  11. ^ Zhao, Sasha. Sterling Ruby: Truncated Malleability. Leap Magazine, November, 2011.
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ Walsh, Brienne. The Survivalist: Q+A with Sterling Ruby.
  14. ^ a b
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  18. ^ Sterling Ruby: Vivids, September 13 - October 25, 2014 Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.
  19. ^ Kevin West (May 9, 2014), Sterling Ruby: Balancing Act W.
  20. ^ Kelly Crow (December 7, 2012), Searching for the Next Art-World Star Wall Street Journal.

External links[edit]