metropolitan dystopia – ed ruscha

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painting etc, photography

Ed Ruscha, California Grapeskins (2009), courtesy of the artist and the Gagosian Gallery

Currently on show at LA’s Hammer Museum is Ed Ruscha: On the Road (until 2 October), an exhibition that amalgamates photography, paintings, and drawings with language in a documentation of America’s changing cultural landscape. Taking inspiration from On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s radical and original 1957 documentary novel of his road trips in America, Ruscha has created a series of paintings that borrow passages from this novel, in an ironic and irreverent commentary on the rapidly developing metropolitan life of post-war America. These new works follow the limited edition artist book version of the novel that Ruscha created in 2009 with the support of the Gagosian Gallery and Steidl, which was illustrated with photographs that he took, commissioned or found.

‘It is completely fitting that Ed Ruscha would take up the challenge of looking at Kerouac’s On the Road. In many ways Ruscha’s entire career has offered an artistic corollary to Kerouac’s linguistic portrait of the American landscape, giving concrete visual form to the poetry of our vernacular roadside. These new works are no different except that they channel one of the greatest chroniclers of the American landscape by appropriating and artistically framing fragmented instances of Kerouac’s language,’ notes Douglas Fogle, chief curator of the Hammer Museum.

Ruscha’s works are deadpan, laconic, and use only all-caps lettering. Commenting on cultural shifts in post-war metropolitan American society such as consumerism, Protestantism and car-dependency, and observing trends such as censorship, drug criminalization and social conservatism, they speak to the banality of metropolitan life in a fitting ambivalence that is neither overtly critical yet hardly celebratory. His combination of typography with abstract images highlight America’s obsession with the booming media and slogan culture; Ruscha’s tone of indifference speaks of the general alienation of an American society caught between poverty and capitalist boom:

‘I was gasping for contact’
‘Cold beer beautiful girls’
‘He didn’t care and neither did she’…

For more images, head to Bareface Magazine.

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Blogging about art, architecture and design that tickle my fancy.

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