Lot 45
  • 45

Ed Ruscha

Estimate
600,000 - 800,000 USD
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Description

  • Ed Ruscha
  • Goods and Services
  • signed and dated 2012-2014 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 26 x 48 in. 66 x 122 cm.

Provenance

Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

Catalogue Note

Ed Ruscha’s paintings from 2000 to the present day expound on pertinent ideas that have permeated his work for the past half-century: the surreal juxtapositions of language and image, the tension between abstraction and figuration, and the convergence of the West Coast landscape with popular culture have defined this later period of his output that resounds with pictorial power and acerbic wit. Emblazoning the titular Goods and Services in glowing crimson across a horizontal mountain landscape, Ruscha’s 2012-2014 painting transmits its intoxicating cool into our visual subconscious. Poetically commanding an exhilarating response from the viewer, Goods and Services deftly and economically comments on the system of capitalist exchange and commerce that has been at the heart of Pop Art's aesthetic discourse since its inception. The bold graphics of this vibrant painting proclaim the oft-ignored sensory dimension of language that enraptures Ruscha, who famously stated, “I love the language. Words have temperatures to me." (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery (and travelling), Ed Ruscha Fifty Years of Painting, 2009, pp. 46-7) Here, the red-hot letters sear into the icy mountain landscape, engaging the viewer in a viscerally charged exchange between the enhanced physical dimensions of text and image.

Ruscha began painting rocky snow-capped mountains at the turn of the millennium, an iconographic motif that has become central to his greater body of work. Ruscha borrows the rugged, sun-drenched vistas from magazine illustrations and photographs, describing them in general terms rather than making reference to a specificity of location. For Ruscha, the mountains provide anonymous but theatrical backdrops on which to superimpose his phrases. Interested more in the idea of mountains rather than the mountains themselves, the settings become breathtaking stages for his words. The mountain landscapes amalgamate the iconography of Ruscha’s earlier Hollywood signs with his Standard gasoline stations. Adopting inspiration from the Paramount Pictures emblem of a mountain peak topped by a halo of stars, Ruscha’s landscapes recall his 1962 painting of the Twentieth-Century Fox logo, Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. While the Paramount trademark espouses the power and superiority of Hollywood in its grandiosity, it concurrently implies a stereotypical generality in both its geographic anonymity and its incessant reproduction during the opening credits of feature films. In the artist’s own words, “If I’m influenced by movies, it’s from way underneath, not just on the surface. A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way they’re words in front of the old Paramount Studios mountain… The backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama, like the ‘Hollywood’ sign being held up by sticks.” (the artist cited in Richard D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London, 2003, p. 239) Even the proportions of Goods and Services echo the scale of the screen, as its letterbox shape evokes a Cinemascope projection. Moreover, the subtly blurred red text that seeps from the letters’ borders into their surrounding background radiates with the same buzz as the frame of a projected film.

While the visually sumptuous rocky ridges and vivid, saturated blue sky evoke a parallel dramatic Hollywood glamour, the blue-collar generality of the image evokes Ruscha’s analogous interest in automobile culture. With these paintings, Ruscha mirrors the insignia of Peak antifreeze, a popular brand for mechanics whose packaging features blocky sans serif letters boldly set across the base of a mountain. Replacing the ornamental cursive typography of the Paramount logo with the blunt, simple typeface of Goods and Services, which is closer in style to the Peak antifreeze packaging, Ruscha accentuates the plainspoken brevity of his word choice. Here Ruscha synthesizes the allure of the silver screen with the everyday nature of car culture, whose very intersection defines the artist’s fascination with Southern California. Discussing the overlap between these two seemingly contradictory sectors of mass culture in Ruscha’s mountain paintings, Thomas Crow noted, “In the landscape of everyday American life, however, the two occupy roughly balanced and comparable territories. The auto racing circuits sustain an alternative pantheon of stars: Peak counts Indy and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick as its glamorous but still blue-collar celebrity face. The mountain motif thus occupies the nexus where a vertical axis measuring a large gap in relative cultural prestige crosses a horizontal one marking a rough comparability between movies and motor sports as objects of popular fascination.” (Thomas Crow in Robert Dean, ed., Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Vol. VI, 1998 – 2003, Göttingen, 2013, p. 6)

Boldly spelling out the economic idiom that divides human output into the transactional categories of physical goods and customer services, Goods and Services highlights a system of commodification and penetrates the commercial infrastructure in which it inevitably participates as an art object. The straightforward commonality and striking elegance of Ruscha’s candid text derives from the typeface Ruscha invented for his own purposes, which he aptly titled “Boy Scout Utility Modern.” The commercial, almost machinelike typography juxtaposed with the lavish landscape beneath it is exemplary of Ruscha’s penchant for jarring pictorial incongruities. While the painting’s literalness seems to provide a sort of uncanny clarity, Ruscha’s displacement and re-contextualization of the phrase offers an unusual association that is endlessly stimulating. With stunning clarity and graphic force, Goods and Services encapsulates the exuberance of Ruscha’s inimitable artistic vernacular and is an exemplar of the artist’s electric body of work from the past decade.

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