Editor's note: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago directly through either this phone number or web address:


Ed Ruscha at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago


The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, will present a major retrospective of Ed Ruscha's work through February 4, 2001.The exhibition includes more than 80 paintings, drawings, and photo-narrative books representing nearly 40 years of work by this California-based American artist. Ed Ruscha is jointly organized by the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England. The exhibition was co-curated by Kerry Brougher, former director of MOMA Oxford and recently-appointed Chief Curator at the Hirshhorn, and Neal Benezra, former assistant director for art and public programs at the Hirshhorn, and current Art Institute of Chicago's deputy director and curator of modern and contemporary art.

One of the most consistently inventive artists of the contemporary period, Edward Ruscha has been a pioneer in the use of language and imagery drawn from the popular media. He has remained a step ahead and apart from the art trends and movements of his time. Pop Art, Process Art, Conceptual Art, Photo-Realism, media-based imagery, and today's renewed focus on painting resonate in a body of work that ultimately defies categorization.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ed Ruscha drove to Los Angeles in 1956 at age 19 to become a commercial artist. While there, he also studied fine arts until 1960 at Chouinard Art Institute. Side jobs in typography and layout, a revelatory trip to Europe, influential encounters with Jasper Johns' art, and the stimulation of such contemporaries as Ed Kienholz, Robert Irwin, and John Altoon helped hone an artistic vision attuned to the prosaic, prepackaged look and language of popular culture.

In the catalogue Forward, authors Kerry Brougher and James T. Demetrion write: "As an outsider. Ruscha was able to take a broad international view of art-making in the second half of the twentieth century, a position that links his southern California "hipness" with the more "intellectual" pursuits taking place in Europe. In taking this approach, Ruscha set the stage several times for subsequent artists who participated more directly in "isms" and movements. It is little wonder then that today many artists mention Ruscha as an important influence."

"Ed Ruscha is one of America's most influential and independent artists," said Manilow Senior Curator Francesco Bonami. "Always confronting the sublime in the banality of life, Ruscha's work offers a slice of the West Coast Pop sensibility that he helped create. This retrospective offers the rare opportunity to look into the rich language of one of the most creative painters of our time."

The exhibition opens with works for which Ruscha first became widely known in the 1960s -- dramatic, diagonal compositions celebrating roadside architecture and signs, and paintings and drawings that probe the visual and emotive power of single words. Between 1963 and 1978, Ruscha also systematically photographed Southern California's built environment and a handful of other subjects that he composed as wordless narratives in bound artist's books; all 16 of his books will be in the exhibition.

Ruscha's "liquid word" paintings of the late 1960s will also be on view. The rust-colored Rancho (1968), a typical example, depicts this word in trompe l'oeil as if applied with clear fluid rather than paint. In a series of works on paper, Ruscha drew expressive images of words, such as "optics," "sin," and "opera" in the nontraditional medium of gunpowder. (left: Annie, 1962, oil on canvas, 72 x 67 inches, Private collection)

In 1969, in part wishing to avoid labels such as "West Coast Pop" and "the L.A. Look," Ruscha stopped painting altogether, turning after a few years to a more process-oriented approach in conceptually loaded imagery. In the evocative, optically stimulating Very Angry People (1973), bannerlike block letters spell out this phrase in cherry juice stained into moire fabric.

Extreme horizontal landscapes and blazing sunsets heralded Ruscha's later return to oil paint. The Back of Hollywood (1977), and Industrial Village and Its Hill (1982), evoke film-like panoramic views. In subsequent canvases, automobiles laboring uphill, an elephant, ranch-style houses, and teepees were conceived as silhouettes. The artist turned from oil to acrylic, and applied it with an airbrush in these works of the mid- to late-1980s. (left: The Back of Hollywood, 1977, oil on canvas, 22 x 80 inches, Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, France

Ed Ruscha's paintings of the past decade have evolved from small abstractions notable for the absence of words to his most recent series -- hyper-realist images of snow-capped mountain peaks, superimposed with incongruous words, and the maplike Metro Plots depicting Los Angeles intersections.

Following its MCA presentation, Ed Ruscha will travel to the Miami Art Museum (March 22-June 3, 2001), the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (July 1-September 30, 2001); and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (October 28, 2001-January 13, 2002).

A fully-illustrated, 196-page hardbound catalog with essays by Neal Benezra, Kerry Brougher, and Phyllis Rosenzweig, associate curator at the Hirshhorn and the exhibition's coordinator in Washington, will be available at the MCA's bookstore and store.

This exhibition has been organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England. Major funding for the exhibition was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, with additional support from Melva Bucksbaum, J. Tomilson and Janine Hill and The Broad Art Foundation. Other funding was provided by The Ansley I. Graham Trust and Emily Fisher Landau.

Related article in this magazine: Ed Ruscha Retrospective (8/2/00).


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in Resource Library Magazine.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/30/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.