Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ed Ruscha: Then and Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla

Article by Cathy Breslaw
Ed Ruscha, Ace, 1962, oil on canvas, 71 3/8 x 66 in. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum purchase in memory of Lois Person Osborn, 1986.28 © Ed Ruscha

On February 1st, I attended a ‘walk through’ of Ed Ruscha’s exhibition Then and Now. Given by Kathryn Kanjo, Deputy Director of the museum, attendees were led from painting to painting, as we learned about Ruscha’s work within the context of his generation and the important art movements and cultural forces that influenced Ruscha’s thoughts and ideas. 

The exhibition builds upon MCASD’s long-standing relationship with Ruscha – the museum holds 30 works by the artist, including the outdoor mural Brave Men of La Jolla(1995-1996).  

Using a combination of text and images, Ruscha produces paintings, photograghs, drawings and films that reflect the city of Los Angeles where he lives and works -  often articulating the vernacular architecture, urban landscape and car culture. Having come into his own during the 50’s and 60’s, Ruscha’s work is influenced by West Coast Pop-Art and Conceptual Art.   

The works in the exhibition highlight Ruscha’s paintings from the 60’s and 2000’s, giving viewers a glimpse of both the beginnings and current phases of an over 50 year career of making art. The anchor piece of Then and Now is a large painting Ace, with a black background and the word ‘Ace’ spelled out in blue letters – there is some impasto brush work within and around the word, creating movement, depth and emotion. Often ironic and humorous, Ruscha uses text/words as well as color palette to comment on American culture.   
Other works draw upon aerial perspective landscapes and diagonal compositions which add a dynamic power to these paintings. His painting The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-1968) uses aerial perspective rendering a large landscape painting of LACMA on fire, speaking to the idea of both progress and decay of cultural iconic cultural institutions. 

For museum goers, listening to Curator, Kanjo’s commentary and ‘back story’ of Ruscha’s life and work – pointing out Ruscha’s themes, concepts and ideas is a fun and informative way to bring an artist’s work ‘to life’.

Ed Ruscha, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1965-1968, oil on canvas, 53 1/2 x 133 1/2 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972 © Ed Ruscha. Photo credit: Cathy Carver

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