Lot 11
  • 11

ED RUSCHA | Please Note

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Ed Ruscha
  • Please Note
  • signed, titled and dated 1990 on the stretcher; signed and dated 1990 on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 60 by 110 in. 152.4 by 279.4 cm.


Collection of the Artist
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002


Robert Dean and Lisa Turvey, Eds., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Four: 1988-1992, New York 2009, cat. no. P1990.43, pp. 306-07, illustrated in color 


This work is in very good condition overall. Please contact the Contemporary Department at (212) 606-7254 for a professional condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. Unframed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Ed Ruscha’s career-long focus on semiotics and the power of connecting words and images to form new meaning has earned him a singular position in the pantheon of twentieth-century art. Ruscha’s Please Note from 1990 is the apotheosis of this journey, culminating in a monumental composition that suggests multiples readings all while resisting straightforward interpretation. Ruscha’s text is surrounded and partially subsumed by a hazy aura, in a monochromatic gradient that recalls black and white film and traditional modes of illustration. Ruscha’s playfully obscured text draws several opposing associations to the fore, including notions of censorship and uncovering, as well as the act of emerging and the state of being subsumed. Taking a banal phrase and complicating it through his technical artistry and visual contextualization, Ruscha’s Please Note is a rich generative source of meaning that epitomizes the artist’s widely celebrated oeuvre. Initially inspired by the synthesis of Pop and Conceptualism pioneered by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Ruscha began creating text paintings in the late 1950s. These early compositions brought together the regimented and rule-laden world of printed matter with the expressive freedom of painting. As the artist was beginning to establish his signature focus, scale and proportion became incredibly important as a basis for communication. With an early focus on single words, Ruscha’s ability to shift the formal qualities of his subject matter helped the artist create nuanced, deeply profound pockets of meaning out of monosyllabic utterances. Words in Ruscha’s paintings would become distorted as well as grow and shrink in endless permutations as the artist worked through the building blocks of communication.

Please Note represents a peak in this long series of explorations and developments, began when the artist was just a student at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, through to moments of critical acclaim, global exhibitions and unparalleled market success. Delineated in an attenuated serif, the present work is an ethereal floating phantom in a space that resembles purgatory more than any concrete environment. The idiom “please note” recalls requests scrawled in office memos and legal briefs, its formality and self-seriousness undermining whatever important argument or fact comes after it. Ruscha expresses the sense of incredulousness with which he approaches that element through the visual abstractions he incorporates into the canvas. An opaque field of white extends from the lower right corner, physically layering over the rest of the contiguous composition and dually suggesting notions of depth and flatness. Behind it, there is an expansive void, with the eponymous words “Please Note” half-obscured behind it. Ruscha has frozen time in his composition and makes subjective whether the phrase is undergoing a process of uncovering or if it is sinking and nearly lost.  

Using a phrase that reflexively debases itself and fundamentally subverts its meaning, the present work gets to the crux of Ed Ruscha’s oeuvre. As Ruscha explains, “[v]ital art is made out of things that the general population has overlooked. The things that are forgotten and thrown away are the things that eventually come around and cry for attention. The artist sees the possibilities in things that are overlooked. Seeing the electric vibrancy in something that is so dead. The forgotten things are a source for food” (the artist quoted in: Kerry Brougher, “Words as Landscape,” in: Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Ed Ruscha, 2000, p. 161). Taking a phrase, and more broadly a sentiment that begs to be overlooked, Ruscha crafts a composition that is absorptive and formally sophisticated, culminating in a tableau that is impossible to ignore.