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MoMA

STERLING RUBY IN NEW PHOTOGRAPHY 2009

November 4, 2009  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Sterling Ruby in New Photography 2009

New Photography is one of my favorite shows to organize.  Generally, it means working with artists of my own generation, and introducing work that I really believe in to a larger audience.  New Photography is about new ideas and new ways of working, and this year’s installment of the exhibition series (which has been around since 1985) is no different.  While in previous years we have highlighted work of artists that are not artistically related, this year, I decided to take a thematic approach and bring together the works of artists that participate in the lively debate on the nature of photography in the twenty-first century.  This new approach to the exhibition series is an experiment, which is very much in the spirit of the work in the show.

From diverse points of view, the artists in this exhibition – Walead Beshty, Daniel Gordon, Leslie Hewitt, Carter Mull, Sterling Ruby, and Sara VanDerBeek – collectively examine and expand the conventional definitions of photography.  I think you’ll find that these six artists (individually and collectively) challenge our perception of photography as a representational medium, explore the process of picture making, exploit the proliferation of images in a media-saturated world, and blur the lines between photography and other artistic disciplines.

While the work in the exhibition is visually quite diverse, all the pictures featured here begin in the studio or the darkroom and result from processes involving collection, assembly, and manipulation.  Many of the works are made with everyday materials and objects, such as magazines, newspapers, books, and images culled from the Internet.  In this series of video interviews, all six artists speak about their work on view in New Photography 2009 and shed light on the process of their art making.  I think you’ll see that each one presents a fascinating set of questions about photography today.

Sterling Ruby

When I first saw Sterling Ruby’s work, I was struck by how inventively he mutated traditional media to create new hybrid forms, and by his unique visual language, which translates across all his work, be it a painting or a photograph. While Sterling is perhaps best known for his sculptures, installations, and videos, he has also always made photographs, collages, and drawings that incorporate photographic elements. Sterling’s digitally constructed photographic collages incorporate a variety of found imagery, as well as pictures that he has taken.

I am fascinated by how these photographs teem with forms that drip, tear, and melt, and often incorporate elements of urban decay (such as graffiti) to evoke transgressive environments and activities.  Sterling’s expressive, and sometimes aggressive, mark-making is made by hand as well as with Photoshop, and is a defining feature in his work, creating a tension between image and surface. I had the fortuitous opportunity to talk to Sterling when he was here for the opening of the New Photography 2009 show; here he speaks about one striking work on view – Artaud – which is based on his own photographs of graffiti found in the walkways of the Cinque Terre region of Italy.

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