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Gagosian Quarterly

February 23, 2017

Spotlight

Ed Ruscha

Here is Ed Ruscha’s Burning Gas Station (1965–66). Text by Larry Gagosian.

Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station, 1965–66, oil on canvas, 20 ½ × 39 inches (52.1 × 99.1 cm) © Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station, 1965–66, oil on canvas, 20 ½ × 39 inches (52.1 × 99.1 cm) © Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha was born in a flyover state (Nebraska) at a time when cross-country travel was done in automobiles and the Southwest was not yet interconnected by superhighways. When he moved to LA, in 1956, he’d often drive the 1,000 miles between there and Oklahoma City in a 1950 Ford on the old Route 66. Along the way, he was mesmerized by the repetition of Standard Oil filling stations, so much so that they would become his Pop symbol of America, as Coca-Cola bottles did for Warhol. Burning Gas Station (1965–66) is one of my favorites from this series by Ruscha because it glorifies the homecoming of that journey and introduces many of the artist’s hallmarks, like the strong use of perspectival diagonals, expressed in the gas station’s canopy, and the flames that engulf it all. (Another of Ruscha’s iconic works, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, was created at the same time.) The definite touch of irony in a gas station in flames in the desert has always reminded me of Warhol’s Disaster paintings from the same period. Ruscha doubles down on calamity: the terror of a raging fire being fueled by a gas station. It’s deadpan humor with a dose of menace.

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