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.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021, 2pm EST
Featuring Flea, Missy Mazzoli, Vernon Reid, and Eddie Ruscha
The fourth episode of Gagosian Premieres celebrates Ed Ruscha’s exhibition at Gagosian New York with musicians Flea, Missy Mazzoli, Vernon Reid, and Eddie Ruscha and new music created in response to the work.
Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984
May 6–June 30, 2017
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Jacoba Urist profiles the legendary collector.
The Art History of Presidential Campaign Posters
Against the backdrop of the 2020 US presidential election, historian Hal Wert takes us through the artistic and political evolution of American campaign posters, from their origin in 1844 to the present. In an interview with Quarterly editor Gillian Jakab, Wert highlights an array of landmark posters and the artists who made them.
“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.
Art Basel Hong Kong 2021
May 21–23, 2021, booth 1d30
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong with a presentation of modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by gallery artists. New paintings by Georg Baselitz, Alex Israel, Ed Ruscha, and Sarah Sze are featured alongside exceptional works in a range of mediums by Louise Bonnet, Theaster Gates, Henry Moore, Nam June Paik, and others, uncovering formal and conceptual innovations and associations that span genres and aesthetic approaches.
Georg Baselitz, Noch ein Orangenesser, 2020 © Georg Baselitz
Venice Family Clinic Art Walk
Benefit Auction 2021
April 28–May 12, 2021
Venice Family Clinic presents its annual benefit auction, a fundraising event whose proceeds will provide essential health care services to people in the community regardless of their income, immigration, or insurance status. Since its inception forty years ago, this charity event has raised more than $23 million. This year’s auction, hosted on Artsy, is honoring Mary Weatherford as the “signature artist” and features more than two hundred works by nationally recognized contemporary artists, including Piero Golia, Ed Ruscha, Robert Therrien, as well as Weatherford. To register to bid, visit artsy.net.
Mary Weatherford, Sunset, Western Cape, 2020 © Mary Weatherford. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio
Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists
Ed Ruscha and Rachel Kushner
In the third episode of Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists, novelist Rachel Kushner and Ed Ruscha share memories of Kathy Acker and Walter Hopps, talk about their love of vintage cars, and enjoy a good pun. Rachel Kushner’s The Hard Crowd: Essays, 2000–2010 will be released on April 6 and Ed Ruscha: OKLA, the artist’s first solo exhibition in his home state, is on view at the Oklahoma Contemporary through July 5. Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists brings together luminaries in the fields of art and literature to have the conversations they themselves wish to have. This biweekly web series is a joint production of Artforum and Bookforum, and is sponsored by the Morgan Library & Museum, New York.
Still from “Artists On Writers | Writers On Artists: Ed Ruscha and Rachel Kushner”
00s. Collection Cranford
Les années 2000
Through May 30, 2021
Mo.Co. Contemporary, Montpellier, France
This exhibition of work from the Cranford Collection, established by Muriel and Freddy Salem in 1999, aims to define the identity of the 2000s by creating a dialogue between one hundred artworks by a multigenerational array of artists who contributed to shaping the beginning of the millennium. Work by Glenn Brown, Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Albert Oehlen, Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Franz West, and Christopher Wool is included.
Glenn Brown, Lemon Sunshine, 2001 © Glenn Brown
Through May 30, 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 July 5, 2021
Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City
Over the past six decades, Ed Ruscha has produced a diverse and highly influential body of work encompassing paintings, drawings, prints, books, photographs, and films. OKLA focuses on the artist’s Oklahoma roots—his family, his upbringing, and his discovery of his calling as an artist. It is also, remarkably, his first solo museum exhibition in his home state. Ruscha lived in Oklahoma City from the ages of five to eighteen—a formative period in both his life and his artistic sensibility. His Midwestern childhood had a profound impact on his art, which the exhibition explores through around seventy-five works from all phases of his career.
Ed Ruscha, Mocha Standard, 1969 © 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)