Michael Ross’s work, given that the signature scale of his miniscule sculptures has less to do with formal refinement (Giacometti) or conceptual encapsulation (Duchamp) than with a more fundamental appreciation of smallness as a quality in and of itself. Ross has been aptly described by the curator Ralph Rugoff as ‘a true scholar of the tiny kingdom’.
While Ross is a visual artist rather than a writer, his interest in language extends well beyond the evident care he takes with his sculptures’ titles. He cites as the inaugural work of his mature career a thimble filled with dust, which bears the self-consciously grandiloquent title The Smallest Type of Architecture For the Body Containing The Dust From My Bedroom, My Studio, My Living-Room, My Kitchen And My Bathroom, 1991.
Much that remains characteristic of his art to this day is heralded by this early sculpture; in particular the deft combination of a small number of disparate elements into a succinct assemblage, garnished with an expansively suggestive title. That said, the thimble is atypically iconic, its ballast of associations (domestic labour, bodily protection, fairy-tale tininess) unusually up-front. These days Ross’s sculptures are more likely to be composed of constituent parts whose identity – which is to say, their originally designated purpose – is not so immediately apparent.
The sheer heterogeneity of his scavenged materials suggests the instincts of a born hoarder whose magpie gaze might snag on almost anything, under favourable circumstances. In fact, some of Ross’s most compelling constructions are as pictorial as they are sculptural, especially those composed of abutting or overlapping flat planes.
Previous commentators have noted how exhibitions of Ross’s work flirt with invisibility. Usually hung in a generously interspaced line along the gallery’s walls at eye-level, such presentations share something with that strain of contemporary art that compels the viewer to reflect on habitual modes of addressing an art object within the ambience of its institutional setting.