As a graduate student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in the mid-’00s, Sterling Ruby was introduced to the work of French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard, a theorist who suggested a future reality comprised of copies and imitations, one in which artistic gestures were unavoidably insincere and always pre-conditioned. Ruby took this to mean that artmaking could no longer be innate: it was bound to a history that was at its best a crutch and its worst a stifling prison.
This lamentation led Ruby to create the body of work that would be known as SUPERMAX, named after the high-security federal prison system that quarantines rather than corrects its inmates. At the center of three exhibitions, including a residency at MOCA Pacific Design Center in 2008, were urethane drip sculptures that Paul Schimmel would identify as "three-dimensional Jackson Pollock… caught in the action."
Better known as stalagmites, these massive sculptures represent the gesture of abstract expressionism trapped by its historical successor in minimalism, a movement that to Ruby was a symbol of authoritarian repression. As defined by Robert Morris, minimalism demanded an unalterable shape; Ruby made his sculptures liquid-looking and malleable. If minimalism’s virtue was its “publicness,” Ruby would vandalize his faux-monuments with tags and graffiti.
Ruby continued to construct these enormous urethane works for another five years. As the body of work came to a close, MOCAtv visited him in his Vernon, California studio complex for an exclusive look at his process.