Museum Brandhorst

Ed Ruscha. Books & Co

06. Juni bis 22. September 2013

Museum Brandhorst | Kunstareal München
© Ed Ruscha, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

At the end of the 1950s, language as a means of communication in the public space was being increasingly questioned due to the growing importance of visual phenomena. In the USA in particular, advertising began to condition the face of mass media more and more. Pop Art reacted to this development, making direct reference to subjects of everyday American culture.

Ed Ruscha, born in 1937, also drew artistic inspiration from the mass media and films as well as the specific urban features of the American West. Los Angeles, where the artist still lives today, played a major role. This is shown not least of all in Ed Ruscha’s books that reveal a certain proximity to Concept Art. The artist produced, published and marketed his slim volumes himself. Apartfrom titles and locations, they generally comprise just one series of black-and-white photographs. Ruscha started in 1962 with Twentysix Gasoline Stations that he photographed on Highway 66 between Oklahoma and Los Angeles. This was followed by Various Small Fires (1964), Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965), Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967). The series has now been continued to include On the Road (2009).

Ruscha’s publications were difficult to classify from the outset. They are too fragmentary or random to be documentary; the photos appear aesthetically undemanding. Nor does the sequence of images, intermittently interrupted by blank pages, relate to a story. Words – where they exist at all – are limited to place names. The design of the slim volumes, although precise and exhibiting a confident stylistic sense, is low-key and avoids any artistic intent. In addition, it remains unclear at whom these publications are aimed.

Seen in this light, Ruscha’s books do not fit any conventional genre. Nevertheless, the response was quite exceptional, even if spread out over a certain period. The artist advanced to a kind of leading figure, especially in connection with ‘appropriation art’ in which other works are cited. This is reflected in the plethora of books by the most varied of artists that first began to appear sporadically in the 1980s. After the turn of the millennium, their number suddenly increased. These range from satirising imitations and the ironic continuation of a particular topic, to copies of typography and design. Ruscha’s indifference and demonstrative neutrality with regard to the selection of subjects has, however, occasionally
been replaced by demonstrations of political awareness and commitment by a younger generation of artists. This still leaves the question unanswered as to what motivated this lasting reception to Ruscha’s epochal books. One of the extensive publications that accompanies the exhibition attempts to provide an answer.

The respective exhibition, curated and arranged by Bob Monk, was held from 5 March until 27 April, 2013, in the Gagosian Gallery, New York. It can be seen in reduced form at the Museum Brandhorst to complement the presentation of new acquisitions and gifts from the artist.