Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha
February 3 – May 6, 2018
Ed Ruscha, Clarence Jones, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 124 inches, Phillip G. Schrager Collection
The first major exhibition featuring Ed Ruscha in his home state of Nebraska, Word/Play brings together prints, photographs, and artist books dating from the 1960s through 2014, complemented by a selection of major paintings. An important early figure in Conceptual Art, Ruscha deftly combines imagery and text. At turns poignant, provocative, and confounding, Ruscha’s use of the written word is a signature element of his work.
Born in Omaha in 1937, Ruscha lived in the city for several years before his family moved to Oklahoma City. In 1956, Ruscha relocated to Los Angeles to study commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute and quickly became a fixture in the energized West Coast art scene. Rarely seen photographs featured in Word/Play reveal the urban landscapes that inspired many of Ruscha’s most famous prints and paintings, including images of nondescript apartment buildings, everyday consumer goods, and the Los Angeles streets.
Examining the breadth of Ruscha’s rigorous engagement with printmaking, the exhibition encompasses screen prints, etchings, and lithographs, revealing his aptitude for pairing traditional techniques with unexpected subjects and unconventional materials, such as coffee or gunpowder. Ruscha’s monumental mountain paintings combine the names and occupations of traditional laborers with sublime topographies, highlighting his capacity to ennoble the mundane and cleverly transform it into the extraordinary. Several of these images contain palindromes, inscribed over mirror-image landscapes, such as
Lion in Oil (2002).
Ed Ruscha. Sweets, Meats, Sheets; Closed; Air, Water, Fire; and Open from Tropical Fish Series, 1975