No, the big vinyl banner that says “Wave Goodbye to Grandma” in the middle of the new exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art is not a healthcare debating fiction uttered by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Instead, it's Conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg's way of marking an epochal transition.
Using the span of human lifetimes, including his own, Ruppersberg compiles printed matter of many different but familiar kinds to quietly escalate an elemental awareness of impermanence and change. Keyed to vernacular objects and mechanically reproduced images — books, records, newspaper clippings, family photo albums, postcards, snapshots, magazines and more — his work is like a mountainous archive of half-remembered, shared events from the not-too-distant past, temporarily sorted in the midst of slipping into inevitable decay. Wave goodbye to Grandma.
“You and Me and the Art of Give and Take,” as the surprisingly poignant exhibition is called, includes two new large-scale installations and a selection of 10 drawings and collages made between 1985 and 1989. Among those drawings is an exquisite set that clarifies Ruppersberg's objective.
Titled “The Gift and the Inheritance,” each is a pencil rendering that shows a single book from Ruppersberg's extensive library — Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Horatio Alger Jr. and even a "Tick Tock Tales" comic. The books are rendered diagonally on the page, in careful perspective as if glimpsed resting on a tabletop; but, in fact, the images are adrift in the blank white space of the sheet. The result is an uncanny sense of materiality given to an illusion — of drawing as both an activity in time and a physical object in space.