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Ed Ruscha at the Vienna Secession - "Double Americanisms"

Published: December 17, 2018; 19:57 · (Vindobona)

American artist associated with the pop art movement, Edward Joseph Ruscha had a decisive influence on the development of art in the USA from the 1950s onwards and with it on the current understanding of contemporary art. The exhibition at the Vienna Secession shows fifty-seven of his works. It marks the public debut of a new series of linguistic paintings. Used parchment drumheads are inscribed with locutions whose shared feature is the use of a double negation - "I Ain't Telling You No Lie," for example, and "I Can't Find My Keys Nowhere."

Ed Ruscha, Mother’s Boys (reverse), 2018, exhibition view Secession 2018 / Picture: © Sophie Thun, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Ruscha’s show at the Secession marks the public debut of a new series of linguistic paintings informed by his memories of Oklahoma City, where he spent his teenage years, and the city’s distinctive slang: used parchment drumheads are inscribed with locutions whose shared feature is the use of a double negation - “I Ain’t Telling You No Lie,” for example, and “I Can’t Find My Keys Nowhere.”

Expressions like these remind him of the way people around him used to speak, and rather than disavowing them as incorrect English, he picks up on them and transforms them into art.

The inexorable passage of time is a recurrent theme in Ruscha’s work, and by reminiscing about his upbringing, he also emphasizes the continuity between his younger self and who he is now - as the artist sees it, he really has not changed much at all.

In contrast to the gestural painting of American Abstract Expressionism, he developed his artistic practice between Minimalism, Pop Art, and Conceptual Art.

His style is characterized by research, innovation, experimentation, critical distance, and a rational and non-emotional attitude.

Widely acclaimed as a sober-minded and dispassionate witness and historian, outspoken and enigmatic at once, Ruscha is gifted with a keen sense for linguistic humor and the comedy of everyday life.

The conception of his most recent exhibition reveals him to be not only an alert observer, but also a master of the well-placed allusion and spellbinding and witty storyteller. Although most of the works on view are recent, Double Americanisms undertakes an unexpected revision of his own oeuvre.

The exhibition showcases altogether fifty-seven works - conceptual digital prints and an extended series of painted language pictures as well as handmade book objects and artist’s books in display cases.

With works such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1965), Ruscha has inscribed himself in 20th-century art history. With photographs taken objectively and arranged indexically in artist books that he conceived and edited himself, he created directories of life in Los Angeles and the American West Coast. The conceptual artist's books made him a pioneer of conceptual art. Ruscha's painting, which constitutes most of his artistic practice, is characterized by formal reduction and severity as well as by the withdrawal of gestural and expressive forms. The American West and Los Angeles are his central sources of motifs, mostly intertwined with painted words and sentences.

In addition to Jasper Johns, Ruscha names Futurism and Dadaism as important points of reference for his work. In their departure from naturalism, the Futurists propagated the beauty of the technical world and the aesthetic idealization of machines, which they preferred to natural things. Even more than the Italian Futurists, Ruscha felt addressed by Dadaist art and its play with absurdity and paradox.

Artists such as John Baldessari, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Jan Dibbets and John Hilliard, who had been exhibiting together under the label Conceptual Art since the late 1960s, simultaneously produced similar works and took up and further developed Ruscha's ostensibly banal, partly ironic, partly pseudo-scientific procedures.

Ruscha became a pioneer of artistic photography not by degrading photography to a simple recording instrument, but through the conceptual procedure and the choice of pictorial objects.

Ed Ruscha
Double Americanisms
Vienna Secession, Association of Visual Artists
Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Until January 20, 2019
Curator: Bettina Spörr

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