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Art review: Ed Ruscha at Gagosian Gallery

March 10, 2011 |  5:45 pm

Nine of Ed Ruscha’s 10 new paintings at Gagosian Gallery don’t look like anything he has made over his prolific, 50-year career. The single canvas that most closely resembles any of the 73-year-old’s previous works — a panoramic image of snow-capped mountains rising up behind a crumpled Bud Lite beer carton — lacks the uncanny magic that is Ruscha’s trademark.

Ruscha This paradox goes to the heart of his art, which is all about stripped-down simplicity, intangible atmosphere and the tendency for appearances to deceive yet still tell the truth.

Ruscha specializes in Minimalist enigmas, humble conundrums both frustrating and fascinating. Think of his works as the visual equivalent of those maddening moments when speech comes up short and all you are able to say is that a word got stuck on the tip of your tongue — where it remains out of reach.

The nine knockout paintings in “Pscyho Spaghetti Westerns” are long horizontals: 9-, 10- and 11-feet-long canvases that depict roadside trash. In most, the horizon line is low, often angled at a steep pitch. Tire treads, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, mattresses and broken signs perch perfectly on the border between earth and sky.

Strict Realism gives way to loose drama. The horizons seem to list, like sea-going vessels in distress. Strange tales spin free as the various bits of litter seem to teeter-totter, their weight and volume driving home the point that these unresolved compositions are part of unsolved mysteries.

One of Ruscha’s favorite tricks is to make things so obvious that viewers don’t notice them. That happens in this quietly confounding series of extremely abbreviated landscapes when Realism comes back into focus.

The world only looks like it does in these paintings when you’re flat on your face on the side of the road, too weary or knocked out of your senses to raise your head to get a level perspective.

That’s a lot to take in, especially at a show that’s as attractive as this one. Ruscha makes it work by not forcing the issue and leaving everything to the power of suggestion.

-- David Pagel

Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9400, through April 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.gagosian.com.

Image: Ed Ruscha, "Psycho Spaghetti Western #5." Credit: From Gagosian Gallery.

Comments () | Archives (7)

Nice review but the paintings weren't that great.
Ruscha's Standard Station paintings were far better and where his career peaked out. Maybe his next series will be better.

so andrews, what are you doing that's so great

Whatever else the show has or doesn't have, it has a great title.

I have warm feelings about Ed , an early show of his being a fond childhood memory.
I admire any artist who still holds onto elements of drawing, despite the vapid tide. As Avant-garde as he was, when he balanced humorous and cynical, he held onto graphic imagery and composition. I think he used the modern art world to his own ends very effectively. He actually deserves his renown for standing on the slime, dignity intact, unlike some many posers who dominate the gathering of wreckage that is called art today.

Besides, what we liked as kids should just about never be what is important and great as adults. i liked Ray Bradbury, Tolkien and The Who in mid school, Steinbeck, Crusaders and Tower of Power in HS, had to live responsibly to understand Hemingway, Coltrane and Miles Davis when adult.
It is time to put aside childish things, whether Beatless or Ruscha

I still like the Who.

On the radio driving, I do too. While painting, never. All these issues are adolescent. or at most college age. Thats not creative art. Thats for those of use with kids and responsiblites, who have been through the ringer and still see purpose. The equivalent of Michelangelo is not the Stones or Who, they are party music, who sometimes rose above that, for a particular generation. I dont care to go back to my youth, I live n the moment, I aint 18, thank god.

But why did our teenagers lose to Mater dei in the state chamionships? Damn, why cant Poly win on home turf at LBCC, thats three straight times after wining the southern section. Damn, part of it is we never have anyone over 6'8" and lucky to have that this time, but damn! Thats my kid thing, coached a bunch in my day, and hip hop, the older good stuff not this rather effeminant disney influenced techno crap now got it goin.

Oh, well, off to USC and Boston College with them, but the talent of ballers is way down the last three years. Had five socal kids in the NBA rookie/soph all star game, and lots before then in the NBA, not a single McDs gamer in Cali the last few years. Now, this may ot seem important to you, but actually affects far more lives than horrible contempt art, which is all about amusements, the Disney age for so called adults. And Ruscha a key architect of endless adolescence. At least these kdis get to collge and do something with their lives. My eldest now in med school and a lieutenant in the Navy, after ballin at Annapolis. Not games, therapy and decoration like todays "art".

But damn, Mater dei, hell no!


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