Lot 39
  • 39

Ed Ruscha

3,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ed Ruscha
  • Truth
  • signed and dated 1997 on the reverse; signed, titled and dated 1997 on the stretcher
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 54 x 60 in. 137.1 x 152.4 cm.


Acquired by the present owner from the artist in 1997


Robert Dean and Lisa Turvey, eds., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Five: 1993-1997, New York, 2012, cat. no. P1997.02, p. 285, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

“There is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.
This absolute will to truth: what is it? Is it the will to not allow ourselves to be deceived? Is it the will not to deceive?”   Friedrich Nietzsche, 1890

Never before seen in public, the appearance of Truth at auction marks an historic and truly special event. In 1997, Ed Ruscha painted Truth as a resounding testament to his long-standing relationship with prominent West Coast art collectors and patrons Merle and Pearl Glick. Merle, a Los Angeles based dentist, and Pearl, the cousin of legendary Ferus Gallery owner Irving Blum, arrived at an avid appreciation and passion for the burgeoning Pop Art aesthetic in mid-century through the simple fate of their life circumstances. Blum introduced the Glicks to the then-unknown artists who today comprise the Ferus Gallery’s storied stable. On one such occasion, the artist John Altoon accompanied Blum to dinner at Merle and Pearl’s home and, following the meal, asked Merle if he would be willing to trade paintings for dentistry. Thus began a life-changing path of patronage, spirited collecting, and personal relationships with some of today’s most influential Pop artists, among them Billy Al Bengston, Ed Kienholz, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha. In 1970, as payment or perhaps simply as an homage, Ruscha painted Tooth for Merle, a canvas that bears the letters of its titular word isolated from one another and floating in a depthless atmosphere. Three years later Ruscha created another painting for Merle and Pearl, Truth, on which the present work is based. The 1973 Truth is one of a small cycle of paintings begun the previous year and conceived to illustrate the strict moral imperatives of the artist’s upbringing. This series of six words, all rendered in an italicized Bondoni Ultra Bold font, is imbued with a moral absolutism that becomes the ideal target for Ruscha’s incisive wit. GospelMercy, Purity, Faith, and Hope complete the cycle, each individual canvas simultaneously exemplifying the evocative power of language at its most potent while also broadcasting Ruscha’s innate and mesmerizing ability to subvert it. Selected from the series for its aural kinship with the artist’s previous gift – on the reverse Ruscha playfully inscribed “it rhymes with tooth” – the 1973 Truth became a prized work in the Glick’s ever-growing collection. When this earlier version changed hands, the artist reimagined it, executing the present Truth in 1997 in acknowledgement of a nearly thirty-year friendship. This painting stands as a testament to the symbiotic artistic support and patronage that characterized much of the West Coast Pop art scene, and further encapsulates a seismically transformative period in the history of twentieth-century art. 

Emblazoned across the entirety of its five-foot wide frame, Ruscha’s "TRUTH" emerges from veils of radiant blue and vibrant red that diffuse in an ethereal mist. Colliding with one another in concentrated zones of rich chromatic intensity and then dispersing into a spray of aerosol lightness, these tinted clouds float through Ruscha’s letters, nearly overtaking their authority and engulfing them in a vapor of aesthetic dynamism. While Truth was deliberately selected for Merle Glick as a clever ode to his profession, its title bears the full weight of the vast moral and ethical implications that its namesake word imparts. The receding whiteness of Ruscha’s letters, a visual manifestation of notions of purity so profoundly interwoven with the abstract yet absolute value of Truth, are almost entirely obscured by the dueling primaries of red and blue, camouflaged by the artist’s physical and conceptual intervention. Throughout his career, beginning with his earliest word paintings of 1962 and continuing into the present day, Ruscha has contended that words are material, steadfastly blurring the lines between word and image, seeing and reading and thereby rendering objects out of ideas. He has spoken at length about this persistent leitmotif throughout his prodigious oeuvre: “Whatever my work was made up of in the beginning is exactly what it is like today.” (the artist cited in Bonnie Clearwater, “An Interview with Edward Ruscha” (1989), in Ed Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, Cambridge, 2002, p. 293) In that same year he continued, “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again.” (the artist cited in Thomas Beller, “Ed Ruscha” (1989) in Ibid., p. 282) Floating in the midst of the physically ambiguous environment that Ruscha constructed on his canvas, "TRUTH" appears both wholly tangible and utterly indeterminate, as if emerging into our visual consciousness as a specter of the elusive absolutism it purports to represent. Ruscha achieved this ghostly sensation by reverse-stenciling his letters onto a white gessoed canvas that was then airbrushed in clouds of red and blue. The optical result of this process approaches trompe l’oeil as the letters seem at once to sink into and project out from the compositional ground.

Throughout his remarkable career, Ed Ruscha has maintained an extraordinary conceptual consistency that serves as the foundation for his numerous groundbreaking stylistic explorations. For all the immediacy of his images, there is an ever-present undercurrent of paradox that complicates the seemingly direct relationship between representation and meaning, provoking a moment of pause from the viewer and preventing any straightforward notions of reading, seeing, and comprehending. While the literalness of the present work’s composition seems to provide a sort of uncanny clarity, the artist’s displacement and re-contextualization of "TRUTH" offers an unusual juxtaposition that is endlessly fascinating; namely, the central and simple rendering of letters in combination with the exceedingly literal title conceals the true opulence of Ruscha’s surface. Executed with the clarity, energy, and elemental graphic force that typify the artist’s extraordinarily complex visual treatise on the conditions of painting, Truth is paradigmatic within Ruscha’s incisive body of work.