Lot 123
  • 123

ED RUSCHA | Whose Needs

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ed Ruscha
  • Whose Needs
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 86
  • acrylic on paper


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Private Collection
Christie's, New York, 16 November 2006, Lot 235
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Ed Ruscha, They Called Her Styrene, London 2000, n.p., illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Whose Needs is an utterly intriguing and engaging example of Ed Ruscha’s iconic Silhouette works, which he began in the mid-1980s. Moving away from the crisp precision of his earlier paintings, in this series Ruscha makes use of the soft, hazy sfumato of the airbrush, which eliminates all trace of manual gesture to stunning effect. Whose Needs further exemplifies Ruscha’s iconic way of elevating words to the status of an object. It is representative of his ongoing exploration of perception and cinema, employing verious techniques to examine how words carry meaning when contrasted with an image. Created following his first retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1983, the present work represents a time when Ruscha was propelled onto the international stage.

In Whose Needs, Ruscha placed a titular phrase that is seemingly floating over a blurred landscape, whilst the image of a factory building is suggested by two smoky chimneys fuming into the red sunset. Even though the building remains anonymous, this present work oozes Los Angeles. The panoramic landscape and vivid colours remind the viewer of classic western movies, whilst the artist’s self-designed font ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’ instantly recalls the lettering of the famous Hollywood sign. By superimposing quotations over landscapes, Ruscha adopts the language of cinema evoking film titles being projected on movie screens. His reference to the cinematic experience however goes beyond the visual analogies of his drawings. “If I’m influenced by movies it’s from way down underneath, not just on the surface. A lot of my paintings are synonymous backdrops for the drama of words… I have background, foreground. It’s so simple. And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama” (Ed Ruscha cited in: Exh. Cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, Cotton Puffs, Q–Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawing of Ed Ruscha, New York 2004, p. 21). In the present work, the white lettered words become almost illegible, evoking a dreamlike feeling. The word ‘Who’ stands out to the viewer hovering over the darker coloured chimneys, recalling a sense of memory, questioning the viewer’s identity.

The 1980s represent a turning point in Ruscha’s artistic practice, evolving from his previous flat colour fields to depicting sunrises, sunsets and city landscapes that are brimming with illusionistic depth. Whose Needs is representative of this new use of photorealistic backgrounds juxtaposed with all-caps white lettering in his newly invented font. Rejecting the path of being purely a painter for many years, Ruscha in these series of works was able to liberate himself and to make use of his remarkable activity in films, graphic design, books and prints.