Gift of the artist to the present owner in 1979
San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; British Columbia, Vancouver Art Gallery; The San Antonio Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Works of Edward Ruscha, March 1982 - May 1983, pl. 113, p. 136, illustrated on the cover
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Washington D. C., National Gallery of Art, Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, June 2004 -May 2005, no. 144, illustrated in color
Immortalized the cover for Edward Ruscha's monumental 1982 retrospective which originated at the San Francisco Museum of Art and later traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I Don't Want No Retro Spective is an iconic work which recounts a fascinating true-life story.
Created for the American actor, Bud Cort, arguably best known for his iconic role in the 1971 American film classic Harold and Maude oppostie Ruth Gordon. Ruscha presented I Don't Want No Retro Spective to his friend following Cort's near-death accident on the Hollywood Freeway in 1979. Ruscha gave the work to the actor on his hospital bed, yet the phrase depicted, 'I Don't Want No Retro Spective,' goes back several years earlier. The pair were having dinner together at a Los Angeles restaurant. As Cort recalls, Ruscha had just returned from a show in Switzerland where he had mentioned that he had come across a theatre that was screening three of Bud's films: Brewster McCloud, Harold and Maude and Why Shoot the Teacher?, and referred to it as somewhat of a 'Cort retrospective'. In response, the actorpaused then proclaimed, "I don't want no retro spective" – Ruscha found this statement so amusing that he decided to memorialize it in one of his works, waiting for the appropriate moment to surprise Mr. Cort.
I Don't Want No Retro Spective exhibits a bright, powdery surface in bright pink hues recalling a brilliant setting sun over the California landscape or the dawning of a new day. Meticulously executed, the bold, white lettering emerges from the backdrop in capital letters and reveals the sentimental phrase which links Cort to Ruscha in a tribute to their friendship. Ruscha's fascination for words in his art derived both from formative personal experience and a knowledge of art history. Growing up in Oklahoma, Ruscha saw very little fine art in the flesh and was much more influenced by the immediacy of vernacular imagery: comic strips, typography, book design and vivid commercial advertising. When he first moved to LA in 1956, he worked as a sign painter and graphic designer, as well as hand-setting type and working the presses for art book publishers. Defining the West Coast Pop sensibility, Ruscha was among the stable of the legendary Ferus Gallery, the gallery that staged Warhol's breakthrough show of Campbell's Soup Cans in 1962. In this explosive creative environment, Ruscha fashioned an independent voice and line of pictorial enquiry that revolved around text.
Isolating his textual ready-mades against an empty horizon line, Ruscha exposes the strangeness of his words and forces a semantic re-examination of their meaning. It is this spirit of Duchampian intellectual inquiry which is the hallmark of his best work and which distinguishes him from the pop tendencies of his peers. This inquiry is nonetheless embedded in his vernacular culture. The motif of words floating in emptiness is grounded in his personal experience, recalling the road journey west from his home town to LA along Route 66, a trip Ruscha later made frequently in both directions to visit his family. Along that road, the endlessly flat, featureless horizon line, so beautifully evoked in the soft pink hues of the present work, is only occasionally punctuated by the huge billboards which start as specs on the horizon and gradually get bigger until they slide past the window, contemporary signposts of modern America set against the limitless sky and setting sun of the mythical landscape of the Wild West.
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