January marked the 50th anniversary of Ed Ruscha’s influential book “Twentysix Gasoline Stations,” in which Ruscha’s Route 66 road trip yielded a collection of influential black-and-white photographs of filling (or emptying, if you will) stations, isolating the anomie of their stark, graphically interesting forms, with no text explanation.
Ruscha’s Steinbeckian journey traversing Oklahoma to California took the artist to the end of the line, to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, a habitation from which he would produce the books “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” “Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles,” and “A Few Palm Trees” not to neglect his pseudo-surreal painting of the letters “L.A.”—in Pepto-Bismol and caviar, a paean to the land of ulcers and indulgence (and one of the eternal conundrums of pop, in that it’s almost as amusing described as seen.)
Critics compared Ruscha’s first book project to a sort of secular Stations of the Cross, referring to the Catholic devotion that miniaturizes ancient pilgrimages to Jerusalem, but more importantly regard it as one of the first important books of a modern artist. Ruscha had published it on his own, with the imprint “National Excelsior Press,” and proclaimed that he wanted to become the Henry Ford of book making, by which he probably meant that in the spirit of pop art the books should have an identical, mass-produced quality.
Some of Ruscha’s earlier book projects include “Some Los Angeles Apartments” (1965), “Royal Road Test” with Mason Williams and Patrick Blackwell 1967), “Crackers” (published in 1969 in an edition that suggested the wax paper that wraps cracker stacks), “Babycakes with Weights,” (1970), “Records” (published in 1971 to look like a record jacket), “Colored People” (1972) and “Hard Light” with Lawrence Weiner (1978).
Ruscha’s exhibitor, the Gagosian Gallery, is following the showing that ran November to January with emphasis on his new book called “Various Small Books: Referencing Various Small Books by Ed Ruscha” written by Jeff Brouws, Wendy Burton, Hermann Zschiegner and Phil Taylor.
The exhibit gets an appropriate sendoff from the New York Public Library, which will feature the artist live, in conversation with Paul Holdengräber, the library’s Director of Public Programs, on March 6 at 7 p.m. Ruscha will not only talk about his own books, but discuss their influence on other works of art, book and book-cover designs, and pop culture.
Pictured: Fanned Book, 2012, Ed Ruscha, Acrylic and charcoal on canvas 64 1/8 x 1 5/8