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Ed Ruscha and Photography
March 1 - June 1, 2008
Ed Ruscha is perhaps best known as a seminal American pop and conceptual artist. His iconic paintings of words, American landscapes, and vernacular architecture speak of his deep affinity for the commonplace. But the medium of photography has always been a source of inspiration and discovery. The eye-opening exhibition, Ed Ruscha and Photography, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from March 1 through June 1, 2008, features Ruscha's signature photographic books and dozens of previously unseen original prints. It provides the most comprehensive view of how photography functioned for this leading American artist. Organized in conjunction with the exhibition, a free daylong symposium on March 1 included a talk by the artist, a conversation with Ruscha and cultural critic Dave Hickey and the exhibition's curator Sylvia Wolf, and lectures by scholars Ken Allan and Thomas Crow. (right: Edward Ruscha (American, born 1937). Phillips 66, Flagstaff, Arizona, 1962. From the series Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963. Gelatin silver print; 4-3/4 x 4-11/16 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from The Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation, and Diane and Thomas Tuft 2004.467. © Ed Ruscha.)
Organized by Wolf at the Whitney Museum of American Art to celebrate its acquisition of a deep collection of Ruscha's photographs, the exhibition features more than 100 original prints, many of which have rarely been published or exhibited. Exclusive to the Chicago presentation of Ed Ruscha and Photography are an additional 13 paintings, drawings, and prints from the museum's own outstanding holdings as well as from local private collections.
"I'm thrilled that we can introduce our visitors to a range of Ed Ruscha's photographic works. More than that, viewers will see in Ruscha's photographs his abiding interest in typography, language, and the everyday. They'll also discover these motifs in his books, prints, drawings, and paintings, which will also be on view," said Katherine Bussard, assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Included in Ed Ruscha and Photography are original prints made for his photographic books: Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963); Various Small Fires and Milk (1964); Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965); and Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967). In addition, the show features a striking selection from the more than 300 original photographs made during a seven-month tour that Ruscha took of Europe in 1961. In these images of Austria, England, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Yugoslavia, visitors will see the stylistic elements that have marked Ruscha's work-signage and his strong graphic sensibility-in a context very different from the more well known Ruscha landscapes of Southern California and the west. These photographs are also compelling records of Ruscha's experimentation with his camera. (left: Edward Ruscha (American, born 1937). France, 1961. Gelatin silver print; 3-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the artist; courtesy Gagosian Gallery 2004.95. © Ed Ruscha.)
Another highlight of this exhibition is a selection of Ruscha's photographic books of the 1960s and 1970s, which have come to embody conceptual artists' embrace of serial imaging. These books have had a profound impact on the art and careers of many American artists, and they speak to the intermingling of Ruscha's conceptual approach to imagery and photography as a medium. Lewis Baltz, Dan Graham, and Robert Venturi all cite Ruscha's photographic books as highly influential, and the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher presented Ruscha's work to their students, including the contemporary artists Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky.
Born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles when he was 18. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute until 1960, before working briefly in commercial advertising. In 1961, Ruscha embarked on a career as an artist and produced enigmatic paintings, drawings, and photographic books of gasoline stations, apartment buildings, palm trees, vacant lots, and Los Angeles's famous "Hollywood" sign. The irony and objective stance of his works from this period placed him in the context of Pop art and Conceptualism, but Ruscha consistently defies categorization. Now 70, Ruscha is recognized as one of our most important and influential contemporary American artists.
The role photography has played in Ruscha's career has not been deeply explored until now. What we see in Ed Ruscha and Photography is that the artist has consistently looked to photography, as a subject, a medium, and a vehicle, to inform his artistic practice.
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"Ed Ruscha," 57 minutes, February 13, 2005, National Gallery of Art's Conversations with Artists series
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