Ed Ruscha, Photographer
Although known for his paintings and drawings, California artist Ed Ruscha has also attracted critical attention for his photography. A new exhibition and accompanying catalogue, Ed Ruscha, Photographer, departs from earlier analyses to explore how the artist’s different disciplines―painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography―are guided and shaped by a single vision. Ruscha’s relationship to photography is complex and ambivalent and his work is difficult to define. He has referred to his photography as a “hobby” but from the outset it has drawn considerable critical interest. The small books of photographs that Ruscha produced in the sixties and seventies earned him a reputation as an underground artist among his peers, and have influenced subsequent generations of artists in Europe and North America. The photographs were snapshot size, with an amateurish quality that intrigued his contemporaries. Neither purely documentary nor solely artistic, their subject matter was stereotypical and banal, with motifs drawn from sites in Southern California or the western United States. This, combined with their serial presentation, created a mythical road-movie or photo-novel effect with Beat Generation innuendos and inspired interest among artists at a time when serial logic was prominent in Pop art and Minimalism, and later in Conceptual art. Margit Rowell is an art historian, critic and museum curator working mostly in Paris and New York. Working independently today, her earlier long-term affiliations were with the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, where she organized exhibitions of classical modern and contemporary artists (among them Joan Miró, Constantin Brancusi, Sigmar Polke, and Luciano Fabro). In 2004, she organized a major exhibition of the drawings of Ed Ruscha for the Whitney Museum of American Art, which traveled to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and inspired the present study of Ed Ruscha’s photographs.