Extremes and In-betweens is the latest exhibition by the American painter Ed Ruscha which opened last night to a crowd that included Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor,Michael Craig-Martin, Ron Arad, Alan Jones and Monica Lewinsky. The paintings were completed in 2016. Ruscha sets in motion a dynamic interplay of words and their meanings in ascending and descending shifts of scale and tone that echo the relation of macrocosm to microcosm. Universe With Wrinkles depicts places in a diminishing progression from “Universe” to “America,” to “Tampa, Florida” to “10414 N. Newport Circle,” continuing to shrink coordinates to “top left dresser drawer,” becoming progressively less readable and thus less visible. In Galaxy, spatial concepts are stacked on top of one another in diminishing scale— “galaxy,” then, “earth,” “U.S.A.,” and so on—like an optical test card. The subtle, powdery backgrounds of the paintings vary between muted black and an earth-like tone that Ruscha describes as “a color that forgot it was a color.” In the process of stenciling that Ruscha employs here, the background is laid over stencils onto the primed canvas, rendering the words as negative space. The text is rendered in the now-familiar typeface of his own design, which he has referred to as “Boy Scout utility modern,” used in the renowned Mountain paintings. In Arrows directional markers oppose one another, with straight lines jarring against curvatures, indicating oppositional systems in a visual meditation on containment and coexistence.
A distinct group of four paintings takes up the recurring mountain motif in Ruscha’s oeuvre, which first appeared in the 1990s. Underscoring other references to cinematic devices across Ruscha’s oeuvre, the blushing mountain peaks that appear at the center of each canvas are framed as if in a darkened cinematic aperture, and subtitled with relational word groups such as in All Some None. This verbal progression, in turn, echoes the conceptual vanishing points of the word paintings.
In a career spanning more than five decades, Ruscha has distilled the archetypal signs and symbols of the American vernacular into typographic and cinematic codes that are as accessible as they are profound.
In a career spanning more than five decades, Ruscha has distilled the archetypal signs and symbols of the American vernacular into typographic and cinematic codes that are as accessible as they are profound.The wry choice of words and phrases that pervade his work draws upon the moments of incidental ambiguity implicit in the interplay between language and the concept that it signifies. Although his images are undeniably rooted in the signs and symbols of American reality closely observed, his elegant and laconic art speaks to more complex and widespread issues regarding the appearance, feel, and function of the world and our tenuous and transient place within it.
Ed Ruscha was born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska. He graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), Los Angeles, in 1960. Recent solo museum exhibitions include “Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha,” Whitney Museum of American Art (2004, traveled to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., through 2005); “Ed Ruscha,” MAXXI, Rome (2004); “Ed Ruscha: Photographer,” Jeu de Paume, Paris (2006, traveled to Kunsthaus Zürich; and Museum Ludwig, Cologne, through 2006); “Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting,” Hayward Gallery, London (2009, traveled to Haus der Kunst, Munich; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, through 2010); “Ed Ruscha: Road Tested,” The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2011); “On the Road,” Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011, traveled to Denver Art Museum, Colorado; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, through 2012); “Reading Ed Ruscha,” Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2012); “Artist Rooms on Tour: Ed Ruscha,” Tate Modern, London (2009, traveled to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom; and The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, United Kingdom, among other venues, through 2013); “Ed Ruscha: Standard,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012, traveled to The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Massachusetts, through 2013); “Ed Ruscha-Los Angeles Apartments,” Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2013); “In Focus: Ed Ruscha,” The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2013); and “Ed Ruscha: Mixmaster,” Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Torino (2015–16). In 2012, Ruscha curated “The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas,” at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien in Austria. Ruscha represented the United States in the 51st Biennale di Venezia in 2005, and was featured in the 2015 Biennale de Lyon’s exhibition, “La Vie Moderne.”
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco opened a major solo exhibition of Ed Ruscha at the de Young Museum, which is on view from July 16, 2016 to October 9, 2016. “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” features more than eighty works spanning the artist’s career, exploring his attachments to the sights and scenes of the iconic landscape.
Ruscha currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.