Ed Ruscha:
Archaeology and Romance

Harry Ransom Center, August 11 – January 6

by Neal Baker
ed ruscha harry ransom austin archaeology romance
Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937), Pool #2, from the portfolio Pools, 1968; printed 1997. Photograph courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare. California-based contemporary artist Ed Ruscha might respond, “A number of possibilities.” Ruscha’s portfolio is full of names for things, but the words he works with are hardly ever connected to the things themselves. Separated from their subjects, they bring attention to the way you hear their enunciated sound and the particular impact of the script or typeface. Much of this brand of pop art is, at its core, simply observational. It forces the viewer to recognize ways in which we use words (information, idioms, brands, culture) while also suggesting new uses. Placed in new settings these empty sounds and shapes are juxtaposed with colors and images like strange conceptual pairings of cheese and wine.

Ruscha hasn’t limited himself to words, processing his Californian surroundings through his distinct artistic lens just the same. Many of his works of all kinds find their home now at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, where starting August 11 they will be exhibited alongside a collection of largely unseen materials, sketches, and notebooks once belonging to the artist. Together they will be presented under the title “Ed Ruscha: Archaeology and Romance” and will remain on display until January 6. Given Ruscha’s apt proclamation that “art has to be something that makes you scratch your head,” it’s special to have a chance to encounter clues that make the artist’s work that much more transparent and perhaps a little less puzzling.


Harry Ransom Center

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