There are things that I’m constantly looking at that I feel should be elevated to greater status, almost to philosophical status or to a religious status. That’s why taking things out of context is a useful tool to an artist. It’s the concept of taking something that’s not subject matter and making it subject matter.
At the start of his artistic career, Ed Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist ... who deals with subject matter.” Abandoning academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, he looked instead to tropes of advertising and brought words—as form, symbol, and material—to the forefront of painting. Working in diverse media with humor and wit, he oscillates between sign and substance, locating the sublime in landscapes both natural and artificial.
In 1956, Ruscha moved from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles, where he attended the Chouinard Art Institute. During his time in art school, he had been painting in the manner of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, and came across a reproduction of Jasper Johns’s Target with Four Faces (1955). Struck by Johns’s use of readymade images as supports for abstraction, Ruscha began to consider how he could employ graphics in order to expose painting’s dual identity as both object and illusion. For his first word painting, E.Ruscha (1959), he intentionally miscalculated the space it would take to write his first initial and surname on the canvas, inserting the last two letters, HA, above and indicating the “error” with an arrow. After graduation, Ruscha began to work for ad agencies, honing his skills in schematic design and considering questions of scale, abstraction, and viewpoint, which became integral to his painting and photography. He produced his first artist’s book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations—a series of deadpan photographs the artist took while driving on Route 66 from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City—in 1963. Ruscha since has gone on to create over a dozen artists’ books, including the 25-foot-long, accordion-folded Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and his version of Kerouac's iconic On the Road (2009). Ruscha also paints trompe-l’oeil bound volumes and alters book spines and interiors with painted words: books in all forms pervade his investigations of language and the distribution of art and information.
Ruscha’s paintings of the 1960s explore the noise and the fluidity of language. With works such as OOF (1962–63)—which presents the exclamation in yellow block letters on a blue ground—it is nearly impossible to look at the painting without verbalizing the visual. Since his first exhibition with Gagosian in 1993, Ruscha has had twenty-one solo exhibitions with the gallery, including Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–84 (2017), comprising a decade of reverse-stencil drawings of phrases rendered in pastel, dry pigment, and various edible substances, from spinach to carrot juice. The first retrospective of Ruscha’s drawings was held in 2004 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Ruscha continues to influence contemporary artists worldwide, his formal experimentations and clever use of the American vernacular evolving in form and meaning as technology and internet platforms alter the essence of human communication. Ruscha represented the United States at the 51st Venice Biennale (2005) with Course of Empire, an installation of ten paintings. Inspired by nineteenth century American artist Thomas Cole’s famous painting cycle of the same name, the work alludes to the pitfalls surrounding modernist visions of progress. In 2018 Ruscha’s Course of Empire was presented concurrently with Cole’s at the National Gallery in London.
Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984
May 6–June 30, 2017
980 Madison Avenue, New York
“Things Fall Apart”: Ed Ruscha’s Swiped Words
Lisa Turvey examines the range of effects conveyed by the blurred phrases in recent drawings by the artist, detailing the ways these words in motion evoke the experience of the current moment.
Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.
Eilshemius and Me: An Interview with Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha tells Viet-Nu Nguyen and Leta Grzan how he first encountered Louis Michel Eilshemius’s paintings, which of the artist’s aesthetic innovations captured his imagination, and how his own work relates to and differs from that of this “Neglected Marvel.”
The River Café Cookbook
London’s River Café, a culinary mecca perched on a bend in the River Thames, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone and the publication of her cookbook River Café London, cofounder Ruth Rogers sat down with Derek Blasberg to discuss the famed restaurant’s allure.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Ed Ruscha: A Long Way from Oklahoma
In conjunction with his exhibition VERY at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, Ed Ruscha sat down with Kasper Bech Dyg to discuss his work.
An exhibition at Gagosian, Paris, is raising funds to aid in the reconstruction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris following the devastating fire of April 2019. Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Jean-Olivier Després spoke to Jennifer Knox White about the generous response of artists and others, and what the restoration of this iconic structure means across the world.
Veil and Vault
An exhibition at the Broad in Los Angeles prompts James Lawrence to examine how artists give shape and meaning to the passage of time, and how the passage of time shapes our evolving accounts of art.
Course of Empire
Ed Ruscha sat down with Tom McCarthy and Elizabeth Kornhauser, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to discuss the nineteenth-century artist Thomas Cole, whose Course of Empire paintings inspired a series of works by Ruscha more than a century later.
Gagosian Quarterly Winter 2018
The Winter 2018 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available. Our cover this issue comes from High Times, a new body of work by Richard Prince.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2018
The Spring 2018 Gagosian Quarterly with a cover by Ed Ruscha is now available for order.
Ed Ruscha and Joanne Northrup
Ed Ruscha sat down with JoAnne Northrup of the Nevada Museum of Art to discuss the exhibition Unsettled, which the two co-curated.
September 16–22, 2020
At the start of his artistic career, Ed Ruscha called himself an “abstract artist . . . who deals with subject matter.” Abandoning academic connotations that came to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, he looked instead to tropes of advertising and brought words—as form, symbol, and material—to the forefront of painting. Working in diverse media with humor and wit, he oscillates between sign and substance, locating the sublime in landscapes both natural and artificial. Ruscha’s formal experimentations and clever use of the American vernacular have evolved in form and meaning as technology alters the essence of human communication.
Photo: Kate Simon
Ed Ruscha to kick off new season of Gagosian’s online series
Launching September 16, 2020
Gagosian is unveiling a new vision for the Artist Spotlight series that will operate independently of our exhibition program. This will cement the platform’s status as a vibrant aspect of the gallery’s programming that allows artists to operate imaginatively beyond the physical exhibition format.
The second season of Artist Spotlight—a series that focuses on an individual artist for one week each month—premieres on September 16, 2020, with a new project by legendary artist Ed Ruscha. A selection of works by preeminent artists—including John Currin, Takashi Murakami, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Rachel Whiteread—will debut this fall. For updates, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Ruscha. Photo: Sten Rosenlund
2020 Benefit Auction
September 15–29, 2020
The nonprofit visual art space LAXART is hosting a benefit auction, featuring works by Katharina Grosse, Jennifer Guidi, and Ed Ruscha. Proceeds will help the organization continue its mission to promote emerging and under-recognized talent and engage with key issues of our time through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. The live auction begins at 5pm edt on September 15 on Artsy. The works will also be available for viewing at LAXART by appointment beginning September 15. To register to bid, visit artsy.net.
Ed Ruscha, Street Cred, 2019 © Ed Ruscha
Opening this Week
September 26, 2020–January 3, 2021
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, California
This exhibition by Ed Ruscha includes rarely seen black-and-white photographs documenting the artist’s frequent trips from Los Angeles to Oklahoma in the 1960s, which reveal inspirations for his iconic prints and paintings, including images of gas stations, diners, and the streets of rural towns like Gallup, New Mexico, and Winslow, Arizona. Also featured are examples of his well-known word prints, including color lithographs that combine visual formality with playful language.
Ed Ruscha, Double Standard, 1966–69 © Ed Ruscha
Through October 4, 2020
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas
This show features more than a dozen new works by Ed Ruscha painted on found drum heads. Ruscha sourced the paintings’ visual iconography and language from the American vernacular.
Ed Ruscha, I Don’t Hardly Disbelieve It, 2018 © Ed Ruscha
Through July 18, 2021
Tate Modern, London
This display reflects the range of Ed Ruscha’s practice, including paintings, prints, and photographic books, through artworks spanning sixty years of the artist’s career. Full of irony and humor, his works can often be interpreted as commentaries on American society.
Installation view, Ed Ruscha: Artist Rooms, Tate Modern, London, July 26, 2019–July 18, 2021. Artwork © Ed Ruscha. Photo © Tate (Oliver Cowling)