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Matinee: Ed Ruscha Double Feature Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

10 September 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 152nd in our series of Saturday matinees today: a double feature with Ed Ruscha: Buildings and Words and Who Is Ed Ruscha (And Why Is He So Damn Cool?).

This very nicely produced seven-minute production, written and directed by Felipe Lima and commissioned by The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, does what it promises. And that's not to explain Ruscha's work, as narrator Owen Wilson says, but "to show you as much as I can."

And there's a lot to show including paintings, books, photos and films from over 60 years of work that began with Ruscha's long-haul car trips in a 1950 Ford from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles and back again.

To do that, you not only get glimpses of Ruscha's work but cameos by Ed Begley Jr., Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Irving Blum, Larry Gagosian, Jim Ganzer, Joe Goode, Kim Gordon and Ed Moses.

The photography happens early in Ruscha's career. It occurred to him to shoot the gas stations he was passing by on his long distance commute. He put 26 of them into a book called Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which he refers to as a diary.

Apartment buildings, which were rare in Oklahoma City but not LA, were next.

And then there was the motorized camera he used to shoot a long picture of the Sunset Strip. "Two and a half miles became a book that folded out for 27 feet," Wilson tells us.

There's a distinctly mid-1950s style to Ruscha's photographs (which recall Garry Winogrand) and books (which recall the Letraset era of graphic design).

But what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in fun.

And you can have more of the fun at the de Young Museum's exhibit Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, which runs through Oct. 9. The lower level of the museum (its big hall) has 99 works on display (including that Sunset Strip book).

Nine sections reveal Ruscha's fascination with the evolving landscape and iconic character of the "Great American West" in symbolic, evocative and ironic renditions. These include works that depict gasoline stations, long an important element of Ruscha's work, as well as others that comment on Los Angeles and the film industry, such as his famous "Technicolor" images of the Hollywood sign. The exhibition also includes works in which a word or phrase is the sole subject, often depicted in a variety of forms that simulate poured liquids, cut ribbons or spray paint.

And, big plus, photography (with no flash) is permitted in the exhibit.

Not to be outdone by LA, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco did its own video, titled Who Is Ed Ruscha (And Why Is He So Damn Cool?) and featuring curator Karen Breuer:

Right away, Breuer tells us how to pronounce his name, a problem he addressed on an early business card describing Edward Ruscha (Ed-Werd Rew-Shay) as a "Young Artist."

How can you not like a guy like that?

Still working at 78, he is still a cool guy, she says. "But there is probably no other artist alive in America today who is as beloved as Ed Ruscha. He's just an all-around nice guy," Breuer adds.

Beuer ends her monologue with a challenge: see if you can get through the exhibit without breaking into a smile.

So there you have it, the battle between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the little screen. We just wish we could pile into that 1950 Ford and see it at a drive-in with you. And Ed, too.

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