Ed Ruscha, Rooftops Portfolio, 1961/2004,
Gelatin Silver Prints mounted to board,
Negative Date: 1961
Print Date: 2004
Size: 25 1/8 x 25 1/8 inches
64 x 64 cm
Ed Ruscha, Books, 2001, silver gelatin
print, 23 x 30 cm, edition 20
have eliminated all text from my books - I want absolutely
neutral material. My pictures are not that interesting,
nor the subject matter. They are simply a collection of
"facts"; my book is more like a collection of
ready-mades." Ed Ruscha in an interview with
John Coplans (printed in Artforum, February 1965)
The work of the Los Angeles-based artist
Ed Ruscha, recognised as the embodiment of West Coast
Pop, has not yet been grasped in its full significance.
His unique portfolio stands like a monolith in America's
contemporary art scene and flits between folk, conceptual
and Pop Art, in the tradition of Edward Hopper's melancholia,
Marcel Duchamp's readymades and James Deans "laconic
The ArteF Gallery exhibits photographs
created between 1961 and 2001 in the form of 17 artist's
books. "I am a painter, who also photographs a bit."
In contrast to his well-known, strongly graphic works,
with inserted and often suspended text, Ed Ruscha uses
his camera to open up a universe of seemingly banal and
stereotypical facades of car lots, roofs, gas stations
and swimming pools, in the tradition of Dadaism, constructivism
and surrealism. Like Eugéne Atget or Robert Frank
before him, Ruscha roamed the side-streets of the everyday
searching for the awareness of real life as portrayed
in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road.
"I take things as I find them. A
lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.
" In his photographic cycles, Ed Ruscha expands and
exaggerates the concept of readymades (of "found"
works of art, which themselves contain no artistic intervention).
They are "readyfound" pictures - pictures which
hide no cryptic messages or intellectual meanings. On
the first viewing the little photo book's seemingly cheap
presentation stands out: the pictures are rough snapshots,
documentations of shabbiness, and take the place of everyday,
grey pictures and words. Together with his idols, Warhol,
Jones and Rauschenberg, this Magritte of the American
highway was one of the first to throw an openly democratic
look at the everyday, and through Pop Art, to view art
no longer as something pregnant with meaning and idealized,
but rather to introduce naturalness and neutrality (i.e.
an absence of interpretations) into photography. "I
can't even look at it as photography, they're just images
to fill a book. The presentation is as "neuter gender"
as possible." With this quasi-documentary way of
viewing the everyday, he has become a forerunner and a
revolutionary for a younger generation of artists (e.g.
Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth to name
In the photographs, the industrial complexes,
built in America after the Second World War, stand for
anonymity: the rejection of the aesthetic construction
of a "Julius Shulman Hollywood Way of Life."
Mass production required faceless, functional buildings
and vast parking lots, anonymous highways and modern gas
stations. These buildings continue to dominate the face
of California's cityscape today. Like dinosaurs these
complexes now remain, since the industry has dwindled
and/or moved abroad. Nevertheless, one of Ruscha's most
famous early pictures bears the ironic title: Los Angeles
County Museum on fire. The photography of Ed Ruscha highlights,
in a visionary manner, the corrosion of Pax Americana
and the often desolate conditions of modern America.