Have you ever walked into a gallery, and upon encountering a work, you got a sense of déjà vu?
You see, like many others working in the art field, I have a habit of going about, visiting museums and galleries. This, in turn, leads to the semi-obsessive researching of artists whose works I am less familiar with, or whose works spark an interesting connection to another artist or concept. One such occasion found Nancy Rubins and b. at its center.
I happened to be passing by Allouche Gallery recently, now located close to The Whitney, where some works by the Greek artist who goes by the alias b. were exhibited within a group show. Flashback to 2015, Allouche had presented b.’s works in a solo exhibition titled Corrupted Luxury highlighting a series of “paintings” that presented a commentary on luxury and consumerism during a global economy in crisis, which opened the floor for contemplation on the effects of these concepts on collective social morals. Deep stuff.
Anyway, the idea of inanimate objects combined to form a single artwork has been an idea that has stayed with me since seeing b.’s work in Athens in street art-form and was refreshed after being reminded of this exhibition at Allouche. In numerous of his works throughout his career, b. approaches socio-political topics and the culture of consumerism through the representation of a multitude of everyday objects ranging from toys to tools and even food, in his distinct cartoon-like style. The playfulness of his style gives an initial sense of joy and elevation, until the mind becomes aware of the ideas it is being exposed to.
While engaged in these thoughts, b.’s works, albeit in a two-dimensional medium, became connected, in my mind, with Nancy Rubin’s sculptures. Both artists produce artworks that appear as explosions of everyday objects which have the capacity to generate dialogues about the concepts of consumerism and collecting. This seemed like too good a coincidence (if one believes in those at all) to pass by without noting and sharing.
There is something about the idea of inanimate, seemingly unsuspecting objects being re-used or incorporated into artworks, that is entrancing. Rubins combines sculptural representations, and a diverse array of everyday objects, including small appliances, heaters, airplane parts, mattresses, and springs into large-scale installations and sculptures. Her works, whether monochromatic or polychrome, generate such a strong sense of movement within them that it feels almost as though you are looking at an explosion that has frozen in time. Her sculptures encompass an energy that seems to have suddenly burst outwards in a poetic dance of a collection of objects that defies gravity. The artist herself describes her sculptures as caught in a moment of “flux” in an interview on occasion of the exhibition Nancy Rubins: Our Friend Fluid Metal, 2014.
The objects Rubins uses are, like in b.’s case, remnants of contemporary, everyday life — clues of consumerism. At first glance, her sculptures appear as vibrant, playful explosions that, upon closer observation, expose the mind to the concepts tied to the socio-political results of a highly consumerist society, and are reminiscent of collecting or even hoarding. Having been taken out of context, and re-assembled into artworks is enough to alter the original meaning and use of the individual objects comprising her sculptures. Yet, in a way, because they are such familiar things, like in b.’s works, the individual objects still retain traces of their original use or the concepts they once represented. In simpler terms, a mattress and a canoe can be tied together in a single work representing, thus, different ideas, yet they, simultaneously, still remain a mattress and a canoe.
What makes the pairing of Rubin and b.’s works even more fascinating is that they are artists working in two different parts of our planet quite far from each other. The pairing of their work can create a bridge connecting two otherwise separate geographic, social, political, and artistic cultures. In times like ours, such connections can prove beneficial on numerous levels. In addition, the practices of these two artists reveal approaches to similar concepts, expressed through two entirely different artistic mediums (sculpture and painting) which yield visual results that produce similar experiences around movement and play. Seen together, Rubin’s sculptures and b.’s paintings produce one of the most fascinating dialogues between these two mediums I have encountered in the past few years that is well work digging into more deeply.