Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
18 Mar 2004 to 23 May 2004
This major exhibition of work by one of America’s most influential and independent contemporary artists, Ed Ruscha, presented significant films, photographs, paintings, artist’s books and drawings from the 1960s to 2004. Ruscha’s extensive practice produced a range of work that combined an interest in popular culture, typography and language, with a characteristically witty sensibility. Ultimately defying categorisation, Ruscha’s body of work combines elements of pop art, process art, conceptual art, photorealism and media-based imagery with a focus on painting.
This was Ruscha’s first Australian solo exhibition. The works were largely drawn from the artist’s studio, including some rarely seen material as well as works on paper and canvas made especially for the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and subsequent exhibition venues in Berlin and Rome. Two of the artist’s 16 mm films Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975) were also presented in conjunction with the exhibition, one of the few times they had been screened publicly in the preceding two decades.
A large suite of aerial photographs of car parking lots in California, hung in a grid, introduced the exhibition; adjacent was a gallery housing selected print books by the artist. Books were one of the first artistic formats used by Ed Ruscha, and he has self published over 20 since the early 1960s. Taking the ordinary subject matter of Los Angeles and its environs as his theme, the books acted as an objective, visual record of west coast life and landscape. The Los Angeles landscape and falsity of Hollywood glitz are important themes in Ruscha’s practice.
This exhibition presented over 80 works on paper from the early 1960s, including the artist’s ongoing body of work collectively entitled The End, and 42 large-scale paintings from the late 1980s to the present day, which encompassed the single word, silhouette, aerial streetscape and mountain themes for which the artist is so well known.
Though Ruscha’s choice of media is diverse, it is his paintings which have afforded him widespread recognition. Classic examples include his pop-inspired paintings of associative objects and words, black and white silhouette paintings, and panoramic paintings of words and phrases against stylised mountain backdrops. Ruscha’s ‘streetscape’ paintings of horizontal views echoing what one might see from the window of a moving car – neat, intersecting lines and place names recall the artist’s frequent drives along Route 66 to visit family in his hometown of Oklahoma. The flat, vast landscapes are similar to the Australian plains and deserts making Sydney an ideal setting for Ruscha’s works.
The Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI), Rome, Italy: 30 June – 3 October 2004
The Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany: September – November 2004