The important mission of the artist is to portray scenes which the layman neglects to see in nature; to show beauties which the public never think of beholding; and to imbue his paintings with a thought that is not commonplace. In short, he must uplift the spectator’s mind to higher planes.
—Louis Michel Eilshemius
It’s not to create a picture frame, but to create an idea, to focus on a trapped vision. . . .
Gagosian is pleased to present Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me, an exhibition of works by Ed Ruscha and Louis Michel Eilshemius (1864–1941).
In 2017, Ruscha began Spied Upon Scene, a series depicting majestic mountainscapes that resemble the idyllic ranges of travel books, postcards, adventure movies, or the Paramount Pictures logo. The series descends from his earlier Mountain Paintings, in which inscrutable phrases, laid over the mountain images, become a wry and physical presence in the landscape. The mountains of Spied Upon Scene, however, are partially restricted from view, visible only through oval-shaped lenses or window grids. Like the Mountain Paintings, they seem to refer to the nineteenth-century tradition of the American Sublime; in fact, their lineage includes an obscure American painter from the turn of the century, Louis Michel Eilshemius, whose use of painted frames became an influence on Ruscha’s own approach.
In the late nineteenth century Eilshemius studied at the Art Students League of New York, and then the Académie Julian in Paris, before moving back to New York. His paintings have a brash, almost parodic sense of arcadian fantasy, or naive art. Works such as Fanciful Landscape (1907) and Wading (1919) show dramatic, dreamlike scenes without much pretense to reality. Amid the ascendant avant-garde movement, Eilshemius’s works were unusual for their romantic, enraptured portrayals.
In 1909, Eilshemius began placing the subject matter of his paintings within frames painted directly onto the canvas or support. In a handbill advertisement from 1910, he described his method in the third person, writing, “His self-made frames are very light in weight, do not break, are attractive, no wood is used, made with little labor, are luminous.” Some frames resemble the timber surrounds that have been in wide use since the Renaissance, while others recall spy hatches, peepholes, or telescopic restrictions, such as in Untitled (Nude in a Landscape) (c. 1909–13).
Though his work received little attention during his lifetime, Eilshemius’s belief in its superiority and his indignant public proclamations regarding his own skills and accomplishments earned him an eccentric reputation; he was particularly known for the verbose letters he sent to newspaper editors. In 1917, Eilshemius’s work caught the attention of Marcel Duchamp at the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, to which Duchamp himself had submitted his readymade Fountain (1917), which was famously rejected from the exhibition. Duchamp described Eilshemius’s painting, a female nude titled Supplication (1916), as one of the best things in the show. This brought Eilshemius his first critical recognition, mixed though it was. Later, the same restricted view seen in Eilshemius’s paintings appeared Duchamp’s work, most notably in the controversial Étant donnés (1946–66)—and now, in Ruscha’s work.
The paintings of Eilshemius—an artist’s artist—have been collected by Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons, Louise Nevelson, Ugo Rondinone, and Peter Schuyff, as well as by various American museums. Yet, he is seldom exhibited alongside the work of living artists. The unique pairing with Ruscha in this exhibition shows Eilshemius’s work—here drawn from Ruscha’s own collection—in a new light, elucidating a link between the two artists through American history.
In Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me, landscape emerges as a set of ideas rather than a dutiful imitation of reality. The picture’s frame, whether physically real or illusionistically painted, isolates the painter’s vision, demarcating and confining it, almost like a theater curtain or the contracting aperture of a camera lens over a silent film—slowly revealing the plane on which the artist’s storytelling will take place, ready to contract again when the story is told.
This exhibition overlaps with Ruscha’s ARTIST ROOMS display at Tate Modern, London, which opens on July 25. That evening, Ruscha will appear in conversation at Tate Modern with Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
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.”
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.
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.
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
May 28–June 30, 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.
Installation view, Ed Ruscha: Drum Skins, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas, January 11–October 4, 2020. Artwork © Ed Ruscha
Custom-Built Intrigue: Drawings 1974–1984
May 6–June 30, 2017
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