When Nancy Rubins
studio, she doesn’t head to the art store to pick up paints and other
conventional materials. Instead, she goes to thrift shops, junkyards, and even
the aircraft boneyards of the Mojave Desert to build at palette all her own.
It was shortly after grad school that Rubins began scouring
Goodwill for materials, and discovered that collecting multiple pieces of junk
to build a range of color was far cheaper than struggling to afford costly
tubes of paint. In the studio, as she bound together dozens of broken
television sets, hair dryers, or boats, the sheer abundance of materials became
central to her work; her forms soon approached abstract, three-dimensional
For her latest exhibition, “Our Friend
,” at Gagosian Gallery’s 21st Street location in Chelsea, Rubins
has turned her focus to cast-aluminum children’s toys—namely the bouncing
animals that populate playgrounds. Assembled into massive, cantilevered
cloud-like forms weighing up to 20,000 pounds each, the works are contradictions
in material and lightness—like the show’s title work, Our Friend Fluid Metal
(2014), which seems to float in midair thanks to some clever engineering. “I’m always trying to draw the abstraction from
things, like these springy doodads, which are sort of Pop-ish or camp,” Rubins has said
of the work. “I'm trying to
squeeze that Pop Art
quality out of them, and make them into this
In fact, the “fluid metal” of the title refers to the very
transitory nature of the material that makes up the series—discarded aluminum.
Cheaper to recycle than produce, the figures she salvaged from the trash were
surely on their way to being transformed into something else, before she
swooped them up and elevated them into the world of art.
For all the importance material plays in the show, one piece
stands out in its simplicity. In an exhibition filled with cacophonous mishmashes of
color and shape, the monochrome Drawing (2005)—rag paper covered in a
thick layer of monochrome graphite—is bent to fill a corner of the gallery,
echoing the molten shapes of the sculptures around it.