Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Ed Ruscha
B. 1937
signed twice, titled and dated 1987 twice on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
81.3 by 304.8 cm. 32 by 120 in.
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Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Richard and Barbara Lane, New York
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Seoul
Sotheby's, London, 22 June 2005, Lot 47
Private Collection, London
Christie's, London, 14 October 2007, Lot 25
Seomi Gallery, Seoul
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen; Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Pensions; London, Serpentine Gallery; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Edward Ruscha, December 1989 - February 1991, p. 54, no. 31 (Paris), p. 81 (Rotterdam), p. 103 (Barcelona), illustrated in colour


Robert Dean, Ed., Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings Volume Three: 1983-1987, New York 2007, pp. 266-267, no. P1987.04, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

A sinister mood is made manifest in Ed Ruscha’s 1987 work Averages, which features a distinctly suburban landscape juxtaposed against an ominous, darkened sky. The hazy line of houses and trees is silhouetted against this dark horizon, and as the eye moves across the canvas, the negative space between the houses and trees becomes conceptually significant in and of itself. While Ruscha’s hazy suburban topography presents a second layer above the background of an ambiguous sky, a third layer is evident in the artist’s inclusion of nine luminous white bars, which are rendered sharply against the increasingly blurred background. The lines seem to form a horizontal bar graph, an image that immediately suggests the visual language of data collection and information graphics. Ruscha was profoundly aware of this type of visual inventory through his background in commercial advertising, as well as his exceptional skills in layout and typography. Communication, therefore, lies at the forefront of Ruscha’s work, and while no text is utilised in this composition, the white bar graph in Averages nonetheless communicates by means of statistics and numerical data, a feature common throughout Ruscha’s repertoire. It is no surprise that in her essay concerning the artist’s conceptual and graphic work, curator Cornelia Butler calls Ruscha, “the information man” (Cornelia Butler, Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, New York 2004, p. 27).

Born in Omaha Nebraska in 1937, Ruscha spent most of his childhood mornings delivering newspapers by bicycle, and in doing so continually observed the houses and landscape along his delivery route. These observations have been greatly influential to Ruscha’s work particularly in the 1960s, when he was experimenting with suburban photography. Ruscha’s intention was “just to record a street in a very faithful way” (Ed Ruscha cited in: Calvin Tomkins, ‘Ed Ruscha’s L.A.’, The New Yorker, July 2013, n.p.) and his paper route observations and subsequent photography has clearly influenced the background landscape in Averages. Equally influential to his Omaha upbringing was his move to Los Angeles, where he studied commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute. It was here that Ruscha encountered the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella, whose styles undoubtedly informed Ruscha’s marriage of Pop Art iconography with a highly conceptual aesthetic approach.

A critical example of Ruscha’s photo-based conceptualism, Averages blurs the boundaries between painting and photography through its imperceptible brush strokes, sleek lines and monochrome colour palette reminiscent of black and white film: “The dark paintings came mostly from photography, although they are not photographically done or anything. I feel that they are related to the subject of photography—they are dark and strokeless, they’re painted with an airbrush” (Thomas Beller, ‘Ed Ruscha’, Splash, February 1989, n.p.). While Averages illuminates an acrylic composition, Ruscha has experimented with a wide range of mediums including paint, graphite, gunpowder, photographs, film, and commercially printed books. The artist’s photography books have been particularly significant within his oeuvre through their exposition of suburban snapshots and uncomplicated linguistic expressions. Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), Various Small Fires and Milk (1970), and Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) stand among Ruscha’s most notable photography projects, and together offer a unique visual critique on life in modern America. Seen within this wider context of Ruscha’s repertoire, Averages fundamentally negotiates the dichotomy between image and information, and in doing so seeks to organise, categorise, and account for the world around us.

Contemporary Art Day Auction