Exhibition — Reading Ed Ruscha

Last fri­day, July 7th 2012, the exhib­i­tion Read­ing Ed Ruscha at Kun­sthaus Bre­genz was opened. Until Octo­ber 14th 2012 you have the pos­sib­il­ity to vis­it the exhib­i­tion in Bre­genz (Aus­tria)…

The work of Ed Ruscha (born 1937), one of the best-known artists of his gen­er­a­tion, eludes estab­lished cat­egor­ies. Assigned to pop art at the start of his career and later on to con­cep­tu­al art, today it is clear that one of the qual­it­ies of Ed Ruscha’s work is its nev­er con­fin­ing itself to one style or medi­um. Artist books, draw­ings, prints, pho­to­graphy, and paint­ing are used in par­al­lel, for instance, togeth­er with mater­i­als as uncon­ven­tion­al as gun­powder, fruit juice, cof­fee, and syr­up in pro­du­cing his draw­ings and prints.

For all its vari­ety of styles and tech­niques, how­ever, Ed Ruscha’s work also dis­plays cer­tain con­stants. Among these is his use of writ­ing, wheth­er in print form or painted onto pic­tures on can­vas. It is a red thread that runs through his oeuvre from its earli­est begin­nings to the present. Dur­ing his art train­ing in Los Angeles Ed Ruscha also worked as a sign paint­er and for advert­ising agen­cies, study­ing among oth­er things lay­out meth­ods and print­ing tech­niques, which were later use­ful for his own early pub­lic­a­tions. As far back as the early 1960s he pro­duced his legendary artist books com­pris­ing pho­to­graphs of gas sta­tions taken en route from his home in Los Angeles to Oklahoma where his fam­ily lived (Twentysix Gas­ol­ine Sta­tions, 1963), or of all the build­ings on Sun­set Strip (Every Build­ing on the Sun­set Strip, 1965).

With these works alone Ed Ruscha went down in art his­tory and influ­enced later gen­er­a­tions. His works are rep­res­en­ted in the most import­ant museums world­wide, and two years ago a major ret­ro­spect­ive of his paint­ing toured the museums of North Amer­ica and Europe. While that ret­ro­spect­ive was devoted exclus­ively to his paint­ing, the Kun­sthaus Bre­genz will be present­ing not one but an entire range of media includ­ing draw­ing, pho­to­grav­ure, book, film, and acryl­ic and oil paint­ing. The focus will be on an obvi­ous-enough area which, nev­er­the­less, has nev­er been fully examined to date, namely, the sig­ni­fic­ance of the book and/​or the act of »read­ing« in his work.

How spe­cial writ­ing is for Ed Ruscha is clear from his fam­ous pic­tures on can­vas where single words or sen­tences placed on mono­chrome or poly­chrome back­grounds seem to magic­ally hov­er in front of the pic­ture sur­face. No less sig­ni­fic­ant in this con­text is the ant let­ter­ing he developed for doc­u­menta 5 (1972) cur­ated by Har­ald Szeemann, or the typeface he designed in the 1980s and named »Boy Scout Util­ity Mod­ern,« which he has referred to as a »style of let­ter­ing without style.«

Just how pro­duct­ive Ed Ruscha’s engage­ment with the writ­ten word is can be seen from his artist books, all of which are on show in the Bre­genz exhib­i­tion, as also from the abstract oil and acryl­ic pic­tures of the City­scapes series. In these pic­tures he places rect­an­gu­lar blocks on what are gen­er­ally mono­chrome back­grounds so that the blocks, on closer inspec­tion and com­par­is­on with the titles of the pic­tures, are seen to mir­ror the lengths and spaces between indi­vidu­al words. Over a dozen such works in the exhib­i­tion doc­u­ment not only the atmo­spher­ic dens­ity that this com­bin­a­tion of visu­al abstrac­tion and the words sup­plied in thought can gen­er­ate, but also a remark­able dir­ect­ness vary­ing from des­pair and aggres­sion to humor. It is sig­ni­fic­ant that in this series, which he once referred to as »visu­al noise,« as also in oth­ers, Ruscha now and then blithely breaks his own rules.

In a later com­par­able series of four-col­or pho­to­grav­ures, instead of a mono­chrome back­ground Ed Ruscha used typ­ic­al Amer­ic­an land­scape pho­tos with titles such as Your A Dead Man that con­jure up asso­ci­ations to West­erns.

Among oth­er unusu­al works on show in the exhib­i­tion are Ruscha’s book objects with e.g. The End writ­ten on the cov­er in oil paint or single let­ters bleached into the lin­en bind­ing, such as the O Books. The books become pic­ture sup­ports while retain­ing their status as objects, whereby the book’s con­tent and its (new) cov­er step into dynam­ic rela­tion with each oth­er. The same holds for Oh No and Pep, two leath­er books whose fore-edges have been manu­ally engraved and spe­cially pre­pared for the Bre­genz exhib­i­tion. There are also pho­to­graphs by Ed Ruscha that are rarely exhib­ited. These pho­to­graphs, at first glance, show pre­cisely what their titles describe (e.g. Single Flat Book). On closer inspec­tion, how­ever, they are seen to poet­ic­ally dram­at­ize the rela­tion of text and image, sig­ni­fi­er and sig­ni­fied.

Some of the most impress­ive works in the show are pic­tures on can­vas con­sist­ing of decept­ively real-look­ing, minutely illu­sion­ist­ic front views of books whose cov­ers boast words like Atlas, Bible, Index, or Stand­ards and Norms. Ed Ruscha has spe­cially con­tin­ued this series for Bre­genz by pro­du­cing new works that com­bine the ori­gin­al books and their painted »cop­ies« in frames. There are also new, large-format pic­tures, like­wise pro­duced exclus­ively for the exhib­i­tion, that are being presen­ted to the pub­lic for the first time.”
 — KUB

Kun­sthaus Bre­genz
6900 Bre­genz

July 7th to Octo­ber 14th 2012