Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York

Ed Ruscha
signed and dated 1968 on the reverse
oil on canvas
20 1/8 by 24 in. 51.1 by 61 cm.
Executed in 1967-68.
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Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York
Louise Ferrari, Houston
C&M Arts, New York
Acquired from the above by Marc Jacobs in June 2003


London, Hayward Gallery, Pop Art, July - September 1969, n.p., no. 129a (text)


John Russell and Suzi Gablik, Pop Art Redefined, New York, 1969, p. 238, no. 129a (text)
Robert Dean, ed., Edward Ruscha, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume One: 1958-1970, New York, 2003, pp. 256-57, no. P1968.01, illustrated in color


Ed Ruscha’s startling Broken Glass from 1967-68 is a testament to the impeccable handling of paint, keen attention to color, and glorification of quotidian objects that have come to define the artist’s unique and immediately recognizable style. First shown in the seminal Pop Art exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1969 alongside works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns, the present work is a masterful example of the series of wordless paintings Ruscha executed in the 1960s. Broken Glass depicts a meticulously rendered image of a shattered cup, thrown into dramatic contrast by Ruscha’s characteristic gradated ground. His use of exaggerated light and shadow accentuate the contours of the object, providing a sense of depth and spatial presence, while the illuminated shards of glass pictured mid-flight add a further element of theatricality. The otherwise ordinary and isolated object is thus transformed into a surreal sort of sacred relic by the atmosphere of mystery and uncanny humor Ruscha has created in Broken Glass.

Typical of works from this series, Broken Glass features the signature Ruscha gradient but dispenses with words in favor of everyday objects. Hovering uncannily at the center of the composition, the titular glass appears frozen in the split second of impact; the fractured shards are captured just as they have been blasted from the whole by some explosive force, appearing to float freely and eerily in space. Pictured alone, the glass appears to have broken spontaneously or of its own will, adding to the surreal aura of the painting. Testifying to the sensory capacity of Ruscha's paintings, be they words or objects, one can almost hear the crack of the glass and exploding shards, as one can hear the snap of a broken pencil. Evincing the artist’s skillful draftsmanship, the cup is depicted precisely to scale and in realistic detail, yet it is removed from any context and placed against a shadowy ground that remains resolutely unreadable. The ombré backdrop creates a moody atmosphere that resembles a Martian desert, adhering to Ruscha’s formula for an airless, enigmatic composition while negating his trademark text. Against this majestic setting, the glass becomes a regal object – a reverential, if slightly absurd, shrine to the banal.

Drawing a visual parallel to such Surrealist iconography as the floating objects of René Magritte or the metaphysical landscapes of Giorgio de Chirico, Ruscha elevates his subject from a discarded item to a vessel of poetic resonance. Ruscha explores through his compositions the enigmatic liminal space of the imagination in which such recognizable images cease to bear meaning. Unlike his Surrealist forebears, however, Ruscha pulls his images not from the realm of dreams or the subconscious, but from the everyday world of common objects, as in the work of his idol Marcel Duchamp. As Anne Livet notes: "Ruscha's relationship with the Surrealists is more fraternal than filial. Both artistic strategies derive from the Symbolist tradition, but whereas the iconography of the Surrealists derives from the language of the subconscious, Ruscha's iconography arises from the intersection of cultural and autobiographical metaphor." (Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Works of Ed Ruscha, 1982, p. 17) With Broken Glass, Ruscha, like Duchamp, makes us reevaluate the anticipated meaning of an ordinary object and question the very nature of art.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York