© Ed Ruscha

France, 1961
Gelatin silver print , 3.5 x 3.5 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York,
Gift of the artist
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha and Photography

Organized to celebrate the Whitney's acquisition of a treasure trove of photographs by Ed Ruscha, the museum presents "Ed Ruscha and Photography", an exhibition of more than seventy original prints, many of which have never been published or exhibited before. The collection of 456 objects acquired by the Museum makes the Whitney the principal repository of Ruscha's photographic works. Because of what the photographs reveal about his vision and his career, the collection will be an essential resource for the study and appreciation of Ruscha's art in all media.

"Since the beginning of Ed Ruscha's career in the late 1950s, photography has been both an inspiration and a source of discovery", notes Sylvia Wolf, the Whitney's Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, who organized the show. "This exhibition presents Ruscha's signature photographic books and dozens of previously unseen original prints. Among these are unique photographs taken in Europe in 1961 that contain motifs and stylistic treatments that would emerge in Ruscha's paintings in later years. The exhibition suggests the depth of Ruscha's engagement with photography and sheds light on his career as a whole".

Ruscha's photographic books of the 1960s and 1970s have come to embody the Conceptualists' embrace of serial imaging. The books have had a profound impact on the art and careers of many American artists, including Lewis Baltz, Dan Graham, and Robert Venturi. German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher presented Ruscha's work to their students, including Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, whose own work incorporates a similar dry documentary aesthetic. And Canadian artist Jeff Wall has called Ruscha the "American Everyman". Ruscha's involvement with photography extends far beyond his books, however, as is revealed in the publication accompanying this exhibition. The artist identifies photographers Walker Evans and Robert Frank as influential to his art. He also acknowledges the impact of photography on his work in other media.

Last month, the Whitney announced that it had acquired a major body of original photographic works from Ruscha through the generosity of The Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation, with additional support from Tom and Diane Tuft, and through a significant gift of unique early works from the artist. Included are original prints from his photographic books "Twentysix Gasoline Stations" (1963); "Various Small Fires and Milk" (1964); "Some Los Angeles Apartments" (1965); "Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles" (1967); "Royal Road Test" (1967); "Babycakes with Weights" (1970) and "Real Estate Opportunities" (1970). Also in this acquisition are several photographs Ruscha never published, in particular 16 images from Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) that were not included in the book.

In addition, the acquisition contains more than 300 vintage photographs from a seven-month tour that Ruscha took of Europe in 1961. Photographs from Austria, England, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Yugoslavia feature many motifs and stylistic elements that have marked Ruscha's work over the past 40 years, in particular his interest in typography and signage, and his strong graphic sensibility. They also show him experimenting with the camera. Ms. Wolf observes, "The lack of self-consciousness and intense curiosity reflected in these early photographs makes them both refreshing and revelatory of a fertile time in a young artist's career. Ruscha's use of photography would later develop into a systematic inquiry with clarity of purpose, but during his months in Europe, his pictures suggest spontaneity, playfulness, and a pure delight in seeing".

Ed Ruscha was born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles when he was 18. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute until 1960, before working briefly in commercial advertising. In 1961, Ruscha embarked on a career as an artist and produced enigmatic paintings, drawings, and photographic books of gasoline stations, apartment buildings, palm trees, vacant lots, and Los Angeles's famous "Hollywood" sign. The irony and objective stance of his works from this period placed him in the context of Pop art and Conceptualism, but Ruscha consistently defies categorization. Now 66, Ruscha is recognized as one of our most important and influential contemporary American artists.

Curator: Sondra Gilman

Exhibition: June 24 - September 26, 2004
Gallery hours: Wed/Thu 11 am - 6 pm
Fri 1 - 9 pm (6 - 9 pm pay-what-you-wish admission)
Mon-Tue Closed

Whitney Museum of American Art
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New York, NY 10021
Telephone: General Information: 1 (800) Whitney
Ticketing: 1 (877) Whitney