from 14/05/2021 until 27/06/2021

Sterling Ruby at Cycladic: Ceramics

The Museum of Cycladic Art has invited acclaimed American artist Sterling Ruby for an intervention in the Museum’s permanent collections, showcasing a selection of his famous ceramic sculptures.


The Museum of Cycladic Art has invited acclaimed American artist Sterling Ruby for an intervention in the Museum’s permanent collections, showcasing a selection of his famous ceramic sculptures. The installation includes 21 ceramic works, some of those exhibited in the Dolly Goulandris wing.

It is the second instance, following the Ai Weiwei at Cycladic exhibition in 2016, that the Museum has invited an artist to juxtapose their work with its permanent collections. This time, Sterling Ruby, who continuously pushes the boundaries of artistic creation, places a selection of his works loaned to the Museum among the rare artifacts of its famous Cycladic Art Collection.     

Ceramics have always been a crucial part of Sterling Ruby’s artistic career. The artist, who employs diverse material and aesthetic strategies across a range of mediums, including sculpture, drawing, collage, painting, and video, comes from a long tradition of California-based ceramic artists. The medium remains central to his practice, utilizing  the spatial qualities of sculpting and the chromatics of painting.

The ceramic sculptures presented take a variety of forms, from smaller utilitarian objects, like mortars or ashtrays, to larger basin forms, as well as figurative, floral and totemic shapes. Ruby often combines, alters, and re-fires disused fragments from previous ceramic projects, catalyzing a cycle of reincarnation in which transitional moments and images are frozen in time. He positions the kiln as a site for ritual transformation, through which primordial and aleatory forces of nature work in tandem with his own hand in the formation of the finished art object. 

As the artist explains, 

“The works are hand-wrought and anthropomorphic; many of these vessels are made with pieces from earlier damaged works that I have collected and refired, sometimes up to 10 times. The works stand as monuments to failed attempts and futile gestures, covered in lustrous glazes with variegated colors - a result of their multiple kiln-firings. Contained within these sculptures are notions of archaeological excavation or exhumation, an allegorical acknowledgement of both personal and art historical burdens and debts, a reanimation of the objects and ideas from the past”.

Applying his characteristic balance of delicacy and grit to a variety of shapes and scales, he develops disparate conceptual threads including religiosity and sacrificial rites, and the human body in life and death. Displayed among the ancient objects in the Museum of Cycladic Art’s permanent collection, Ruby’s ceramics reflect on a modern idea of archaeology, pointing to a transcontinental and ever-evolving lineage of forms.

Applying this concept of personal excavation to the  production of works and as a means of tracing a lineage throughout them, Ruby ascribes archαeology to a  prominent place in his oeuvre. At the Museum of Cycladic Art, Ruby’s works converse with representative examples of figurines and vases, tools, weapons, and pottery from all phases of the distinctive Cycladic islands’ culture that flourished in the central Aegean during the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC). As outlined by the artist: 

“Presented next to the artifacts exhibited in the Museum of Cycladic Art, the ceramics both explore the evolution of the medium and its possibilities and reflect on a modern notion of archaeology”

The installation was realized with the kind support of Gagosian.




Sterling Ruby’s work engages with issues related to autobiography, art history, and the violence and pressures within society. Employing diverse aesthetic strategies and mediums—including sculpture, drawing, collage, ceramics, painting, and video—he examines the tensions between fluidity and stasis, Expressionism and Minimalism, the abject and the pristine.     

 Born on Bitburg Air Base, Germany, to an American father and a Dutch mother, Ruby moved at a young age to the United States, where he grew up on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. There he encountered Amish quiltmaking and Pennsylvania redware pottery, both of which directly inspired his initial forays into garment-making, soft sculpture, and ceramics. Ruby graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, Lancaster, in 1996. He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002, followed by an MFA from the ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California, in 2005.     
Public collections include the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; LACMA, Los Angeles; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; MMFA, Montreal; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; MCA, Chicago; MOCA, Los Angeles; MoMA, NY; SFMOMA, San Francisco; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Tate Modern, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

Ruby has exhibited at institutions including the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (2020); Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2019); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2019); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019, 2014); Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2018); Baltimore Museum of Art (2014); Des Moines Art Center (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2017, 2012, 2011, 2008); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2016, 2014); Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris, France (2015); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2014, 2008); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Ghent, Belgium (2013); Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rome, Italy (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013, 2009); FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France (2012); Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland (2012); Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2012); Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Tokyo (2011); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2008); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2008); and The Drawing Center, New York (2008).

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