Sterling Ruby The Masturbators 16 October 2009 - 21 November 2009
Sterling Ruby, The Masturbators, 2009 (detail.)
Sterling Ruby, 2009, installation view, Foxy Production, New York
Sterling Ruby, 2009, installation view, Foxy Production, New York
Sterling Ruby, 2009, installation view, Foxy Production, New York

Foxy Production presents The Masturbators, a multiple channel video installation by STERLING RUBY that provocatively complicates the genre of performance video. Ruby uses porn stars as performers, positioning his viewers as the voyeurs of his actors’ intimate sexual actions, in a charged examination of the role of the artist and the construction of masculinity.

Male porn actors are asked to masturbate to climax, solo, in an empty room standing on color-coded towels. Instructions are given by the artist, a still photograph is taken, and then, as the action begins, the actors are left alone, never being sure if anyone is watching from the other side. Without their usual performance context, each pursues the given task with varying results.

With pornography’s formulaic sets and scenarios removed, the actors are left somewhat adrift, giving each performance an experimental air. The work’s combination of endurance and improvisation is reminiscent of early performance video, where an artist was often alone in the studio, performing acts of repetition and physical stamina and often addressing the relationship between artist, artwork and audience. Ruby reworks this genre, multiplying and refracting it through the use of professional porn stars who collapse the roles of actor, performer, and artist.

With their tattoos, their armors of muscle, and the moans, groans, and grinds of their excessive libidinous acting out, the veneer of hyper-masculinity becomes sharply visible, and the theatricality, the script, of maleness becomes starkly clear. The work sustains a tension that goes beyond the experience of duration and repetition, beyond the humor, fear, anxiety, or lust of witnessing sexual performances: it is a tension inherent in male desire and the abiding fictions that seek to both define and sublimate it.

STERLING RUBY makes richly glazed biomorphic ceramics, large-scale spray-painted canvases, poured urethane sculptures, nail polish drawings, various forms of collage, and hypnotic videos. His work is a form of assault on both materials and social power structures. He takes his subject matter from a wide range of sources, including marginalized societies, maximum security prisons, modernist architecture, artifacts and antiquities, graffiti, bodybuilders, the mechanisms of warfare, cults and cult members, and urban gangs.

With thanks to Electronic Arts Intermix, New York, and PaceWildenstein, New York, for technical support.
Installation photography by Mark Woods.