Lot 42
  • 42

ED RUSCHA | Bones in Motion

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Ed Ruscha
  • Bones in Motion
  • signed and dated 2007 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 60 by 60 in. 152.4 by 152.4 cm.


Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles 
Simon Nightingale 
Simon C. Dickinson Ltd., London 
Private Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2012


Robert Dean, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Seven: 2004 - 2011, New York, 2016, pp. 182-183, no. P2007.02, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Bones in Motion from 2007 is a superb exemplar from Ed Ruscha’s Mountain Paintings, deftly illustrating the artist’s quintessential melding of text and image – a process whose simplicity belies the richness of the work's cultural significance. Cascading across a deep, azure sky, the snow-peaked mountains of the present work foreground the poetic trio of words, whose ambiguity and lyricism play on the aesthetics of language, suggesting little in the way of conspicuous interpretation. Ruscha’s practice has continually been charged with an avoidance of self-evidence, the California-based artist choosing to position his works in a complex system of meaning that incorporates photography, painting, language, typeface, American culture, Hollywood and advertising. What Ruscha’s paintings describe is the subtextual intimations of contemporary forms of ‘picture-making,’ or perhaps what the artist might term ‘Hollywoodizing’ the image: “’Hollywood’ is like a verb to me. It’s something you can do to any subject or any thing. You can take something in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and ‘Hollywoodize’ it.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), COTTON PUFFS, Q-TIPS®, SMOKE AND MIRRORS: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, 2004, p. 15) In the present work, this ‘maximizing’ of content is expressed with distinguished verve, a majestic critique of contemporary media culture and a close analysis of the semantic and aesthetic connotations of wordplay and stock images. After moving from Oklahoma to California in 1956 and studying at the famous Cal Arts – whose alumni and former teachers include Eric Fischl, David Salle, John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger – Ruscha became immersed in an environment of spirited creativity and commercialism; positioned squarely between the West Coast school of artists who were investigating the vocabularies of Pop Art, Conceptualism and Minimalism, and the plastic showboating of Hollywood culture. Los Angeles’s heady romantic appeal certainly stemmed from the silver screen, and Ruscha’s interest in the cinematic form is evidenced across his oeuvre. But his interest went deeper than the signage and logos of an industry; for Ruscha, the filmic architecture of sets and backdrops, actors and scripts posed a system of meaning that was to dictate how the artist constructed his paintings. Discussing his Mountain Paintings, Ruscha describes how the pictures of the sheer rock faces serve the purpose of “anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. They don’t correspond to my concept of photography. They are anonymous images, not mine. They are paintings of ideas of mountains. Photography just allowed me to see them fast. They don’t have the oblique way of looking at things of the real photograph.” (Ibid., p. 24) Ruscha’s practice could be read, in its totality, through the lens of Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce’s theories of semiotics; the artist’s splitting of meaning from form, of concept from object, encourages the viewer to reassess the aesthetic relationship between words and images. And this is none more striking or overpowering than in the Mountain Paintings, whose monumental peaks evoke the transcendental landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, Albert Bierstadt and Ansel Adams, yet eschew such lofty comparisons by their nondescript, almost National Geographic style that tends towards cliché.

The painterly quality of Ruscha’s mountain therefore – that quickly dissipates into more fragmented, stylized paint handling upon closer inspection – grounds Bones in Motion in a history of landscape painting. However, overlaying the image with stenciled text in his own trademark typeface, entitled ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern,' inverts the subliminal meaning of the backdrop, ‘Hollywoodizing’ the sloping, rocky terrain in front of the monochrome blue sky. This cinematic approach consistently challenges the viewer's reading of the present work, producing a complex web of connections and associations that manifests totally – prioritizing neither the formal application of the paint nor the conceptual imagery of the wordplay. As the philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote in his seminal text Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, first published in 1964: “The movie, by sheer speeding up the mechanical, carried us from the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configurations and structure. The message of the movie medium is that of transition from lineal connections to configurations...Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of the structure and of configuration? Is that not what has happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication?” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, London, 2001, p. 13) This shift from sequential deliverance of meaning to the form of a configured, networked medium is epitomized in the body of work produced over the course of Ruscha’s career, whose works are distinguished by overtly layered text with stony commitment. 

Without doubt one of the most important artists of the contemporary period, Ruscha demonstrates his aesthetic vernacular in Bones in Motion, a sterling work from a key series that orchestrates the poetic and monumental, embodying the career-long examination of systems of representation whose striking designs conceal the subliminal, latent coding of their elusive meaning. Exploring the gap between the ‘big picture’ and the implied details, therefore, Ruscha’s practice represents one of contemporary painting’s most acclaimed critiques of contemporary media culture, combining art historicism with the stylistic prompts of the roadside billboard. As director and curator Kerry Brougher has written: "Hovering over these widescreen works is the issue of parody: how much of the work is a homage to contemporary culture and how much is a pastiche? Throughout his career, Ruscha, like other artists associated with the Pop movement such as Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, has edged close to commentary, but has just stopped short of moralizing...Ruscha seems to find a sense of the poetic with his deadpan approach to contemporary visual culture.” (Kerry Brougher, ‘Words as Landscape,' in Exh. Cat., Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (and travelling), Ed Ruscha, 2000, p. 169)