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, Twenty-Six 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
Extremes and In-betweens
October 5–December 17, 2016
Grosvenor Hill, London
Books & Co.
July 28–September 9, 2016
Prints and Photographs
July 28–September 9, 2016
April 6–May 28, 2016
Prints and Photographs
March 12–May 7, 2015
Extended through February 10, 2015
November 20, 2014–February 10, 2015
Extended through September 27, 2014
Prints and Photographs
May 8–September 27, 2014
980 Madison Avenue, New York
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 “Neglected Marvel,” Eilshemius.
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.
Art and Food
Mary Ann Caws and Charles Stuckey discuss the presence of food and the dining table in the history of modern art.
Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.
May 28–June 3, 2020
Gagosian is pleased to present recent paintings by Ed Ruscha online for galleryplatform.la. Fifty years ago, Ruscha purchased a set of vellum drum skins from a leather shop in Los Angeles. He has continued to collect these vintage objects, and since 2011 he has used them as canvases for the works on view in his solo exhibition Drum Skins at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. Due to the ongoing health crisis, the museum is currently closed.
Installation view, Ed Ruscha: Drum Skins, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, January 11–July 12, 2020. Artwork © Ed Ruscha
Alternate Meanings in Film and Video
You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.
Gagosian is pleased to present Broadcast: Alternate Meanings in Film and Video, an online exhibition of artists’ films and videos viewable exclusively on gagosian.com. The exhibition will be organized into a series of “chapters,” each lasting two weeks. The first chapter begins on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
Broadcast: Alternate Meanings in Film and Video employs the innate immediacy of time-based art to spark reflection on the here and now, taking the words of famed psychologist and countercultural icon Timothy Leary as its starting point.
Adam McEwen, Escape from New York, 2014 (still from “Battery Tunnel”) © Adam McEwen
Thursday, March 5, 2020, 6:30pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian for a tour of the group exhibition American Pastoral. The show juxtaposes modern and contemporary works with historical American landscapes ranging from Albert Bierstadt’s depiction of the sublime in Sunset over the River (1877) to Edward Hopper’s tranquil seaside scene, Gloucester Harbor (1926). Gagosian’s Alice Godwin will focus on a select grouping of exhibited works that seek to challenge the idealized vision of the American Dream that has long been a rich topic of inquiry for artists in the United States. To attend the free event, RSVP to email@example.com. Space is limited.
Installation view, American Pastoral, Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, January 23–March 14, 2020. Artwork, left to right: © Theaster Gates, © Adam McEwen, Thomas Moran, © Richard Prince, © Banks Violette, © Ed Ruscha. Photo: Lucy Dawkins
Through July 12, 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
Opened November 1, 2018
The Broad, Los Angeles
An installation of sixteen works by Ed Ruscha is on view at the Broad.
Ed Ruscha, Angry Because It’s Plaster, Not Milk, 1965 © Ed Ruscha
July 26, 2019–April 19, 2020
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–April 19, 2020. Artwork © Ed Ruscha. Photo © Tate (Oliver Cowling)
Edward Hopper and the American Hotel
October 26, 2019–February 23, 2020
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Edward Hopper and the American Hotel explores the artist’s images of hospitality settings showcasing more than sixty of the artist’s paintings, drawings, watercolors, and illustrations. Also included are thirty-five works by American artists that similarly explore the visual culture of hotels, travel, and mobility from the early twentieth century to the present, including work by Gregory Crewdson, Ed Ruscha, and Cindy Sherman.
Ed Ruscha, Hotel, 1962 © Ed Ruscha