POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Sterling Ruby, 2TRAPS, 2010, Image via: The Pace Gallery
Is Sterling Ruby's art too simplistic to be engaging? Certainly that's the first impression I came away with after viewing his exhibition 2TRAPS at The Pace Gallery (formerly Pace Wildenstein). The show is made up of an evil bus with jail cells and a giant sound system. Next to it is what appear to be people pens, presumably for housing criminals before they load onto the bus.
Sterling Ruby, 2TRAPS installation detail, 2010, Image: Art Fag City
I don't know a lot about the prison system, but having never seen one of those bad boys on the road, I'm guessing the bus isn't a standard government transport model. It's pretty scary. Past the jail cells and sub-woofers of death, the bus is without windows and painted entirely in black. Assuming the goal is to torture a large number of people at once, this certainly would achieve these ends. Of course, the work is neatly placed in a gallery, so no viewer has a chance to believe anyone's suffered. This creates passivity to the work I'm not entirely comfortable with, given the subject matter.
Still, if I don't criticize the 2003 film Monster for presenting me with a cast of largely unredeemable characters, why should I penalize Ruby for showing me something else I don't care for? As a friend wisely observed the other day, the works are “obscene, huge, ugly, expensive testaments to brutality.” Put this way, the sculptures seem wildly successful. They are after all exactly as he describes — horrifying monuments to violence.
I still don't like them. At least when Monster was released I felt moved by the narrative. With Ruby, I worry I'll be waiting indefinitely.