“Word/Play: Prints, Photographs, and Paintings by Ed Ruscha” at the Joslyn Art Museum

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Ed Ruscha, Clarence Jones, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 124 inches, Phillip G. Schrager Collection

OMAHA- “Word/Play” is the first major exhibition to feature internationally-renowned artist Ed Ruscha in his home state of Nebraska. Born in Omaha in 1937, Ruscha lived in the city for several years before his family moved to Oklahoma City. In 1956, he relocated to Los Angeles to study commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now called CalArts), and quickly became a fixture in the highly energized West Coast art scene.

An important early figure in Conceptual Art, Ruscha demonstrated a talent for deftly combining imagery and text during his student years. At turns poignant, provocative, and confounding, Ruscha’s use of the written word has remained a signature element of his work throughout his career.

This exhibition brings together prints, photographs, and artist books dating from the 1960s through 2015, complemented by a selection of major paintings. Rarely seen photographs reveal the urban landscapes that inspired many of Ruscha’s most well-known prints and paintings, including images of nondescript apartment buildings, gas stations, and the streets of Los Angeles. Mining Ruscha’s incisive reading of the physical and anthropological landscapes of Southern California and the American West, this exhibition highlights his capacity to ennoble the mundane and cleverly transform it into the extraordinary.

In the 1990s, Ruscha began using mountains as backdrops for slogan-like words and phrases. Depicted as if seen from below so that they tower over the viewer, these icy peaks appear dramatic, yet for Ruscha they are merely pictorial clichés. Often, the text in these paintings and prints are entirely unrelated to the sublime topographies that the artist so carefully renders. Ambiguity has long been one of Ruscha’s most important creative tools, leading to what has been called the “huh?” effect of his work. By generating more questions than answers, Ruscha invites viewers to challenge relationships between language and images and to look at a common world in an uncommon way.

More About Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha: Buildings and Words (below) is a short-length documentary, commissioned by Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, about Ruscha’s extraordinary body of work. The film is written and directed by Felipe Lima and narrated by Owen Wilson.

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