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Work by Sterling Ruby at the ICA Boston.

Work by Sterling Ruby at the ICA Boston. (Courtesy Sterling Ruby Studio)

Sterling Ruby is like a magpie, picking shiny fragments from myriad artistic and cultural traditions and rearranging them to striking effect. His assemblages are broad in taste, often irreverent, and occasionally quite charming.

The thoughtfully hung survey of Ruby’s work at the Institute of Contemporary Art is a great show to argue with: at times compelling, at times vexing. The 20-year retrospective, a first for the artist, allows the viewer to evaluate the artist’s wide-ranging career, to decide which of his “illicit mergers” are successful, and which miss the mark. 

Ruby’s work can best be described as a pastiche or collage. For Ruby, the art-making process entails alchemy: the combination of everyday and unexpected materials with a catalyst to form a product that is greater than its parts.

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