‘The sublime refinement of Mark Rothko is crossed with the anarchic gestures of spray-can graffiti’ —J. DEITCH
‘I have always thought of art as similar to poetry [in] that it can’t be proven and yet, if done right, has a sense of unmistakable aura’—S. RUBY
Submerging the viewer in its vast, kaleidoscopic panorama, Sterling Ruby’s SP57 (2008) offers a hallucinogenic eulogy to urban subculture. Luminous veils of colour accumulate in shimmering, holographic bands, creating an iridescent painterly mist that appears to hover before the canvas. Inspired by the ever-changing landscape of graffiti surrounding his LA studio, Ruby’s spray-painted abstractions channel the raw energy of street art into ethereal, transcendent visions, shrouded in a hazy sfumato vapours that blend and intermingle in interminable strata. Initiated in 2007, and pursued intensively over the following years, these works represent the most important achievements within a diverse practice spanning installation, collage, video and sculpture. Described by Jeffrey Deitch as ‘the sublime refinement of Mark Rothko … crossed with the anarchic gestures of spray-can graffiti’, Ruby’s work occupies a distinctive position in the evolution of contemporary painting – a trajectory that runs from Abstract Expressionism through Pop Art, to the spray-can works of Christopher Wool, the explosive canvases of Julie Mehretu and the opulent stencils of Rudolf Stingel (J. Deitch, quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 6). Simultaneously rough-hewn and fragile, Ruby’s frenetic, combustive surfaces are at once incendiary and romantic, laced with nihilism and wonderment in equal measure.
Ruby’s fascination with street culture is rooted in his observations of the tortured relationship between local graffiti artists and the authorities who sought to obfuscate their work. ‘My studio [in Los Angeles] was in Hazard Park, where the Avenues and MS13 gangs were fighting over drugs and territory’, he has explained. ‘Their disputes were visually apparent through massive amounts of tagging. The city responded by sending out their anti-graffiti teams during the night. Power paint sprayers were used to cover up the day’s graffiti in a muted wash of either beige or gray. The city did this under the cover of darkness, while the gangs seemed to prefer the vulnerability of the day. One wall in particular seemed to be the primary site for these territorial disputes. By early morning, there would already be four to five rival tags, the markings were still decipherable. By nightfall the individual traces were impossible to break down. The tagging had become abstract. All territorial clashes, aggressive cryptograms, and death threats were nullified into a mass of spray-painted gestures that had become nothing more than atmosphere, their violent disputes transposed into an immense, outdoor, nonrepresentational mural. The city teams would then continue the cycle with a clean slate that evening, and it would start all over the next morning. I started painting again when I saw this’ (S. Ruby, quoted in The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 190). Starting with a series of marks and tags, before overwriting these forms with layers of spray paint, Ruby’s method consciously mimics this process of erasure and addition. In the shifting, volatile surface of SP57, the artist weaves a mesmerizing rhapsody that speaks to the fundamental impermanence of all art.
NEXT CHAPTER: CONTEMPORARY ART FROM A PRIVATE ITALIAN COLLECTION
Christie’s is proud to present Next Chapter, a selection from an extremely fine Italian collection of international contemporary art. Spanning across our Post-War and Contemporary March sales, from Online and First Open to the Evening and Day Auctions, the work displayed here demonstrates the open-mindedness and aesthetic astuteness of its collectors, as well as their passion for what they themselves call ‘the esprit of our times’. It is this interest in the contemporary that lies behind the collection’s name; a reference to the literary interests of its collectors, it also reflects the fact that, for them, one period of collecting is ending and another beginning – they are leaving behind this outstanding document of the last twenty years of art history in order to pursue the coming generations of artists and their art.
This is a remarkably wide-ranging selection of works, but while it is enlivened with a refreshing eclecticism it has clearly been curated judiciously and with careful consideration; there is a sophisticated sense of the artistic movements and aesthetic and intellectual affinities that draw its various artists together, allowing works to speak to one another across borders and between generations. Düsseldorf photography stalwarts Thomas Ruff, Thomas Strüth and Thomas Demand sit alongside the work of Cindy Sherman, whose Pictures Generation sensibility finds a direct inheritor in the iconoclast Piotr Uklanski. The practice of appropriation leads us to important works by New Yorkers Kelley Walker, Seth Price and Wade Guyton, whose urban materiality chimes with the streetwise spray-painted colour field of Sterling Ruby’s SP572008. Like Ruby, Glenn Brown’s eerily replicated Frank Auerbach seems to both herald the death of painting and imbue it with new life – a grappling with the medium that fuels the irreverence of Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Josh Smith, and the vital new painterly figuration of George Condo and Dana Schutz.
Just as vital is a diverse grouping of sculpture that ranges from Urs Fischer and Rudolf Stingel to Damián Ortega and Sarah Lucas. Alongside Schutz, Sherman, Roni Horn, Elizabeth Peyton, Marlene Dumas, Yayoi Kusama and Nan Goldin, Lucas is one of a strong array of female artists in the collection. The trailblazing African-American artists Kara Walker and Julie Mehretu are also represented, while Kusama brings a Japanese perspective alongside her male compatriots Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, whose large-scale 2003 work No Way! is a highlight of the whole collection.
The diversity of the collection is testament to the superb taste of the collectors, and this is on the one hand a passion project and a very personal collection of works. But in the depth of its variety, it also serves as a powerful statement on the art of the last twenty years: it reflects a profoundly heterogeneous art landscape that is grappling with the explosion of possibilities inherited from the artistic revolutions of the twentieth century, while at the same time responding to the glut of images enabled by a world that is ever more globalised and technologically interconnected. Characterised by innovation and inventiveness, and imbued with a spirit of dynamic, responsive connoisseurship excited by the cutting-edge, Next Chapter is a collection befitting its time.
THOUGHTS FROM THE COLLECTORS
My wife and I have always loved reading. Since our adolescence we have been avid readers of both contemporary fiction and classics.
My encounter with contemporary art has been unexpected: a friend of mine working in a small gallery dealing prevalently Italian post-war artists the cue. Hanging out with him and consequently visiting the exhibitions of this gallery I started discovering a completely new artistic language that I suddenly learnt to love. I quickly became as passionate as I was of cinema and literature.
Pushed by curiosity, I found myself interested in what was newest, deep inside contemporary art. My wife and I felt that this interest, together with our passion for cinema and books, was deepening our understanding of the contemporary artistic sensibility as well as completing our comprehension of the esprit of our times.
This was the beginning of my adventure as a collector. Each and every work has its own narrative. Its importance may not be immediately blatant, but manifests itself over time, sometimes with a totally different meaning to the one I bought it for.
It has now been more than twenty years since I started collecting works by international contemporary artists. I love visiting galleries, meeting the artists, talking with curators. My adventure is like a long book, starting with the first work I have ever bought - a wooden sculpture by Stephan Balkenhol - that grows of a chapter every time we buy something new.
These new “chapters” have accompanied me through my daily life, have seen my children being born and growing up, and me and my wife getting old.
Some of the works we have collected make my wife and me very proud. The painting by Martin Kippenberger, for example; or the portrait of Harry, Elisabeth Peyton’s dog or Tony’s, her partner. We are so deeply proud to have owned the large round canvas by Rondinone, the crying model by Richard Phillips, drawings by Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans. Not having being able to collect any canvas by these two latter great painters has been a reason of deep disappointment.
Appreciation for an artist isn’t always immediate, only rarely have we fallen in love at first sight, even though this happened in the cases of Elisabeth Peyton, Wade Guyton and Ross Bleckner.
I normally read, get informed, look at the artist a lot before getting captivated by his or her works. I enjoy choosing among young artists, especially for their always fresh innovation and sometimes rather surprising language.
I believe my wife and I could never live without art, because art signifies the harmony that nourishes our present, it would be impossible to stop collecting. It is a passion that could never be extinguished.