First Ruscha retrospective in 20 years opens April 7 at LACMA

| March 28, 2024 | 0 Comments

STANDARD STATION, Ten-Cent Western Being Torn in Half, 1964, Sid R. Bass, Private collection.
© Ed Ruscha, photo courtesy of the artist

The Impressionists painted flowers and lush landscapes, and Rembrandt mastered self-portraits. Ed Ruscha’s palette, however, has been his adopted home, Los Angeles, depicting a mixture of commercial advertising, entertainment and the words and images of everyday American life.

ACTUAL SIZE, 1962, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, anonymous gift through the Contemporary Art Council, 
© Ed Ruscha, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Paintings of a can of Spam, a Standard gas station and the Hollywood sign are among some of his most iconic works. They are among the 250 paintings, drawings, prints, photos and books in “Ed Ruscha / Now Then,” the artist’s first retrospective exhibition in more than 20 years.

Much of Ruscha’s work draws on Southern California and its landscape. He arrived here in 1956 from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to study commercial art at what is now CalArts. He would ultimately merge his skills in graphic design and fine art, combining text and images to create his singular, modern style.

“Ed Ruscha is a defining figure of postwar American art and has drawn inspiration from Los Angeles for more than six decades,” Michael Govan, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director — and exhibition co-curator — said in a statement.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART ON FIRE, 1965-1968, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Collection Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; gift of Joseph Helman, 1972. © Ed Ruscha, photo credit: Paul Ruscha

Ruscha’s exploration of photography took him to Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile for his work “Los Angeles County Museum Of Art on Fire” (1965–68). The black-and-white photo shows the William Pereira museum buildings engulfed in flames. The aerial perspective originated from a series of photographs taken from a helicopter.

PARKING LOTS (May Company, 6067 Wilshire Blvd.) #25, 1967, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Discretionary Fund,
© Ed Ruscha, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Ruscha’s book “Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles” (1967) features aerial views the artist directed of empty parking lots, including a black-and-white image of the former May Company on Wilshire. (It is now the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.)

Ruscha’s thick layers of paint outlining brand names aligned him with the Pop Art movement, such as his recreation of a can of Spam, titled “Actual Size,” partially named after an advertising term and also because objects in his paintings are often their actual size.

He took other familiar objects and transformed them into something new. In his painting of the 20th Century Fox production logo, he added his signature, a horizontal thrust making the image of the 20th Century Fox logo seem to loom out from the canvas.

His 1968 silkscreen on print, “Hollywood,” is composed of billboard-size letters of the iconic sign on a horizon line, evoking the broad perspectives of the West Coast landscape.

The artist questions preconceived assumptions of language by breaking apart a three-letter word in his “Sin / Without,” 1990.

The exhibit has been co-organized by Govan and Christophe Cherix of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and their staffs. It was conceived in collaboration with the artist.

“Chocolate Room” (1970 / 2023) is a single-room installation Ruscha originally created for the United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1970. Because of the fragile nature of its materials, the installation is being refabricated on-site by La Paloma Fine Arts studio in Los Angeles. We’re told the room will smell of chocolate.

“Ed Ruscha / Now Then” opens at BCAM at LACMA on Sun., April 7 and continues through Oct. 6.  Visit

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Category: Entertainment

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