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Ed Ruscha at the Art Institute of Chicago

March 3, 2008

If you’re not on the e-mail list for the events at the Art Institute of Chicago, I would suggest that you sign up. They are in the habit of bringing very important cultural figures in to talk, which is precisely what Ed Ruscha did last Friday. In a here’s-what-I’ve-been-think-lately style artist “lecture,” Ruscha ruminated on everything from Muhammad Ali to Gertrude Stein to photography, the supposed subject of his lecture that also inaugurated the opening of the exhibit Ed Ruscha and Photography. While he did not lay out his style shifts strictly chronologically as one attendee griped, it was much more interesting to hear his current thoughts on art and art history then to just drone about his influences with slides clicking in the background.

Ruscha began by saying that he has recently bought a Peter Schuyff painting and displaying a slide of it. Utilizing for the base of the image what Ruscha describes as “a thrift-store painting” of a still life of flowers, Schuyff layered over the flowers concentric rings of blue and red paint until it mostly obscured the image except for the center and the edges. Ruscha noted that the artist lives in Amsterdam and said he imagines this is what flowers may look like in a psychedelic state (i.e. tripping). After implying that the artist was on drugs, Ruscha seemed to soften his opinion by saying that once he saw it he had to have it. Ruscha then moved to the next slide which showed the display of the Schuyff: sitting on top of Ruscha’s toilet, propped up by a Kleenex box with the tissue sprayed out of the top obscuring the painting. Ruscha said he liked this display and thought it appropriate to the image, complimenting its form. This prompted quite a bit of laughter.

Ruscha also recalled the first time that Leo Castelli showed him a painting by Roy Lichenstein of converse sneakers emerging from a yellow star burst shape. He recalls the encounter with the image to be like “having lemon juice flung in your eyes.”

Aside from these and other side stories, Ruscha did talk about the influence photography has had on his work. He cited Walker Evans as a influence in terms of his straightforward and historical style, methods which certainly manifest themselves sometimes in Ruscha’s work though usually nuanced with text additions. He also noted that Evans was the artist that made him appreciate the United States, a statement quite interesting in its implications. Ruscha also noted influence that film technique has had on his work, particularly his very famous Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1963, top image) and his Standard Station series (1966, below). Recalling a scene in a film, or many films, Ruscha noted how an approaching train would begin as a speck and then grow bigger as it approached until it eventually filled the screen with image and noise, an event Ruscha tried to adapt to two dimensions.While it meandered in its topic, hearing Ruscha speak was quite interesting. He avoided talking about his most current work which was too bad, instead focusing his more well known work. Next speaking event is Robert Pinsky, another not to be missed.

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