The intrepid explorer of language and image

Aka the deadpan laureate of American art. By Jason Farago in the NYT: 9/7 on-line: “The Deadpan Laureate of American Art: Ed Ruscha, intrepid explorer of language and image, prefigured a digital culture of words on the move. A retrospective at MoMA shines new light on his groundbreaking career: the books, the paintings, the room made of chocolate” | 9/8 in print: “Art’s Deadpan Laureate: Ed Rusch, intrepid explorer of language and image, prefigured a digital culture of words on the move. A show at MoMA explores his career”.

A huge show of Ruscha’s career, with a long and penetrating review by Farago in the Times. A review with an enormous number of images of the exhibition and Ruscha’s works, 7 of which I will reproduce for you here (some edited to fit this space).

So: the beginning of Farago’s review; the 7 images (the published images all credited: “by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times”); and an inventory of some of my earlier postings about his works.

Farago’s introduction to his review.

In the beginning was the word; the image, with all its troubles, came later.

For 65 years now, Ed Ruscha has evaded the presumed exhaustion of painting through a linguistic trapdoor: an equation of language and picture, each putting pressure on the other to produce some of the keenest evaluations any artist has ever made of American life. It was an approach born from advertising and design, channeled into fine art. It looked like Pop, it looked like Conceptualism. It was neither; it was an artistic inquest into the essence of things. What is the essence of things? Might it not be something simpler than they teach in physics laboratories or divinity schools? Might it be, especially in America, something more mundane?

“Ed Ruscha / Now Then” opens to the public on Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art, and it is so finely calibrated, so well-balanced — so cool, in stylistic and emotional and HVAC senses — that you may not initially clock its scale. To call it the show of the season is something of an understatement. With more than 200 works, this is the largest retrospective ever mounted of this deadpan laureate of American art, and the most significant New York has seen since the Whitney Museum took a touring show in 1982.

There have been gallery presentations in the interim, and smaller museum showcases, such as the 2005 presentation at the Whitney of his “Course of Empire” cycle, first seen at the American pavilion of the Venice Biennale. But “Now Then” is the first New York museum show since the Reagan administration to engage his full career, and to give his photo books the same attention as his poker-faced paintings. (The show has been organized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to which it will travel in April.) Christophe Cherix, MoMA’s chief curator of drawings and prints, has produced a discreetly historic exhibition — which, I suspect, will have immediate relevance for a generation habituated to the touch-screen, and to its thousand daily digital collisions of text and JPEG, PNG, GIF.

7 images from the exhibition (all captions from the Times).

The opening galleries:

(#1) The opening galleries of “Ed Ruscha / Now Then” include “OOF” (1961) and “Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights” (1962).

Bracketing Farago’s review, front and back:

(#2) From “Ed Ruscha/Now Then” at MoMA, his painting “Adios” (1967) isolates five letters in paint that appears like maple syrup. Beans seem to stick to the vowels and consonants.

(#3) “The Back of Hollywood,” a panorama from 1977.

Two collections. From two different times in his life:

(#4) In his pastels on paper from 1975-79, Ruscha used stencils to mask each sheet, then painted the backgrounds with misty fields of color.

(#5) Three paintings from the “Course of Empire” series, prepared for the Venice Biennale in 2005, where Ruscha represented the U.S. From left to right, “The Old Tool & Die Building” (2004); “The Old Tech-Chem Building” (2003); “The Old Trade School Building” (2005).

Two specific phrase paintings. From two different times in his life:

(#6) “An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines” (1993). Ruscha’s O’s and S’s are composed solely of straight lines, “like some kind of stiff figure in clumsy clothes,” the artist said.

(#7) “Pay Nothing Until April,” a painting from 2003. Ruscha’s later text paintings employ a typeface of his own design, which he called Boy Scout Utility Modern.

Ruscha on this blog.

my 2/20/11 posting “Concepual art”, with Ruscha’s THIS IS A MIRROR YOU ARE A WRITTEN SENTENCE

my 5/4/11 posting “Ed Ruscha”, “on the occasion of a new book of his paintings of life on the road and on the street, Road Tested“; with his “word paintings”: I DONT WANT NO RETRO SPECTIVE, SCREAM, HOLLYWOOD IS A VERB, BUSTED GLASS / USTED ASS

my 11/13/15 posting “The art of interjection”, with Ruscha’s OOF and LISP and mention of other one-syllable word paintings: BOSS, HONK, SMASH, WON’T

my 6/19/16  posting “Language at the art galleries”, with a section on his ribbon paintings


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