There used to be a large first baseman for the Cleveland Indians named Wayne Cage. One day, Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles hit a single, ending up at first base, and remarked to Cage that he was the only player in baseball who had his address on the back of his uniform. Needless to say, Wayne was not pleased.
Sterling Ruby thinks that "Cage" is essentially an address we all share and, to prove it, has installed two long cages at PaceWildenstein's 22nd Street space, which you can step into and inhabit. I did so at the opening last week, sitting in the back of a long black bus which has the dank, dark cages inside of it, fiddling with the woofers and rolling silver balls, which Ruby has installed as decoration. I was immediately joined by the ubercollector Beth Rudin DeWoody.
The cage had a kind of leveling effect on the two of us, a comfort zone created out of discomfort. The artist Theresa Hackett, feeling that I had achieved an appropriate resting place for my sins, proposed to snap my picture, as an attractive young lady hurled a bitchy remark in my direction. If I had had to take a crap, I guess you could have called me "John Cage." Of such dissolute thoughts does the critical mind deteriorate in Rubyville.
For it is useless to propose that Ruby's new installation is esthetically derivative of Bruce Nauman's Double Steel Cage (1974), a far more claustrophobic art experience, because Ruby is "sui generis" a philosopher of displacement and misery who doesn't really recognize anything that came before. His argument is that our situation is not the clean, well-lighted space of Tino Sehgal, opening up for a daffy yet rational encounter, but a grim bridge from death to death that also confines. If you have seen the film Escape from New York with Kurt Russell as "Snake," you can pretty much know the Sterling Ruby persona and concerns.
The Pace cages paradoxically are rather comfortable to inhabit precisely because they strip everything away and, if you are thinking devilishly, they might be metaphors for the whole Pace gallery operation itself. Bring a picnic and a hip flask and anything else that eases the pain. It is the perfect complement to the Sehgal experience for a double venue Saturday art date. And, if you were William Pope.L., a man who has acted more suffering than Sterling Ruby could even imagine, you could crawl between the two.
"Sterling Ruby: 2Traps," Feb. 5-Mar. 20, 2010, at PaceWildenstein, 545 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).