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Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha

June 24 - September 26, 2004


Long regarded as an American master, Ed Ruscha has redefined the way we see the urban landscape of Los Angeles, and, for that matter, the American landscape as a whole. Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, the first museum retrospective of Ruscha's drawings, highlights Ruscha's genius for the deadpan and wry juxtaposition of words and objects. Featuring more than 200 works from the past four decades, the exhibition is on view at the Whitney, June 24 through September 26, 2004, before traveling to Los Angeles and Washington, DC. (left: Ed Ruscha, I Was Gasping for Contact, 1976, pastel on paper, 22 3/4 x 28 3/4 inches (57.8 x 73 cm). Private collection. Photograph by Douglas M. Parker Studio. © Ed Ruscha)

"No American artist has a more singular vision of the American landscape, especially the impassive iconography of the road, than Ruscha," notes Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney's Alice Pratt Brown Director. "Often disconcerting in the way he links the verbal and the visual, Ruscha forces us to examine the place of words in our world and the strangeness of the ordinary, compelling us to look anew at the astonishing things we ignore on a daily basis."

The exhibition is curated by independent curator Margit Rowell, formerly a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, and The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The title of the exhibition derives from a series of conversations Rowell had with Ruscha during the preparation of the show. Ruscha described his work by stating, "You know, it's just cotton puffs, Q-tips, smoke and mirrors." "Cotton puffs" and "Q-tips" swabs refer to the tools Ruscha often uses in creating his drawings, while "smoke and mirrors" can be seen as references to the illusionary quality of his work, as well as an allusion to photography. Ruscha has admitted that "seeing things photographically" has influenced the way he sees as an artist.

Rowell notes, "Ruscha's work includes paintings, photographs, prints, books and films, but his works on paper are perhaps his richest vein. Through his interpretation of cultural icons and vernacular subjects, such as the Hollywood sign, trademarks, and gas stations, as well as his renderings of words and phrases in countless stylistic variations, Ruscha proposes a modern landscape based on keen observation and wry humor."

The exhibition includes work created since the end of the 1950s, made with both manufactured and organic materials, such as gunpowder, blood, fruit and vegetable juices, grass stains, and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, all applied with equally imaginative tools. Ruscha's straightforward depiction of common objects has earned him a reputation as a Pop artist, yet his interest in and use of language have aligned him with Conceptualism. The words and phrases found in the drawings often give the impression that they were extracted from billboard advertisements or movie dialogues. Examples include Standard (1966), City (1967), and Dirty Baby (1977), among others, and they reflect pop culture and familiar phrases found in the vernacular of the fifties, sixties and seventies. (right: Ed Ruscha, Mighty Topic, 1990, acrylic on paper, 30 x 40 1/4 inches (76.2 x 102.2 cm), Private collection. Photograph by Paul Ruscha. © Ed Ruscha)



An exhibition of Ruscha's photographs runs concurrently with the display of the artist's drawings. Organized to celebrate the Whitney's recent acquisition of a remarkable group of Ruscha's photographs, Ed Ruscha and Photography, curated by Sylvia Wolf, the Whitney's Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, includes more than seventy original prints, many of which have never been published or exhibited before. The photographs will hang in the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Lobby Gallery on the first floor while the drawings are on view in the Peter Norton Family Galleries on the third floor.



After the Whitney, Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha travels to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (October 17, 2004 - January 17, 2005) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (February 13 - May 30, 2005).



Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, published to accompany Ruscha's first museum retrospective of drawings, showcases his singular vision and his wide range of highly personal media and techniques. Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha includes essays by Margit Rowell and Cornelia Butler, curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. With 251 illustrations, 204 in full color, the 260-page catalogue, will be published in June 2004 by the Whitney Museum of American Art and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and Steidl.


Ed Ruscha and Photography

June 24 - September 26, 2004


Organized to celebrate the Whitney's acquisition of a treasure trove of photographs by Ed Ruscha, the museum presents Ed Ruscha and Photography, an exhibition of more than seventy original prints, many of which have never been published or exhibited before. The collection of 456 objects acquired by the Museum makes the Whitney the principal repository of Ruscha's photographic works. Because of what the photographs reveal about his vision and his career, the collection will be an essential resource for the study and appreciation of Ruscha's art in all media. The show runs June 24 to September 26, 2004. (right: Edward Ruscha, France, 1961, gelatin silver print, 3.5 x 3.5 inches, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;, Gift of the artist; courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins)

"Since the beginning of Ed Ruscha's career in the late 1950s, photography has been both an inspiration and a source of discovery," notes Sylvia Wolf, the Whitney's Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, who organized the show. "This exhibition presents Ruscha's signature photographic books and dozens of previously unseen original prints. Among these are unique photographs taken in Europe in 1961 that contain motifs and stylistic treatments that would emerge in Ruscha's paintings in later years. The exhibition suggests the depth of Ruscha's engagement with photography and sheds light on his career as a whole."

Ruscha's photographic books of the 1960s and 1970s have come to embody the Conceptualists' embrace of serial imaging. The books have had a profound impact on the art and careers of many American artists, including Lewis Baltz, Dan Graham, and Robert Venturi. German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher presented Ruscha's work to their students, including Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, whose own work incorporates a similar dry documentary aesthetic. And Canadian artist Jeff Wall has called Ruscha the "American Everyman." Ruscha's involvement with photography extends far beyond his books, however, as is revealed in the publication accompanying this exhibition. The artist identifies photographers Walker Evans and Robert Frank as influential to his art. He also acknowledges the impact of photography on his work in other media. (right: Edward Ruscha, Standard, Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, 1962.gelatin silver print, 4 15/16 x 6 1/2 inches, Purchase, with funds from The Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation, and Diane and Thomas Tuft. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins)

In March 2004, the Whitney announced that it had acquired a major body of original photographic works from Ruscha through the generosity of The Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Foundation, with additional support from Tom and Diane Tuft, and through a significant gift of unique early works from the artist. Included are original prints from his photographic books Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963); Various Small Fires and Milk (1964); Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965); Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967); Royal Road Test (1967); Babycakes with Weights (1970) and Real Estate Opportunities (1970). Also in this acquisition are several photographs Ruscha never published, in particular 16 images from Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) that were not included in the book.

In addition, the acquisition contains more than 300 vintage photographs from a seven-month tour that Ruscha took of Europe in 1961. Photographs from Austria, England, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Yugoslavia feature many motifs and stylistic elements that have marked Ruscha's work over the past 40 years, in particular his interest in typography and signage, and his strong graphic sensibility. They also show him experimenting with the camera. Ms. Wolf observes, "The lack of self-consciousness and intense curiosity reflected in these early photographs makes them both refreshing and revelatory of a fertile time in a young artist's career. Ruscha's use of photography would later develop into a systematic inquiry with clarity of purpose, but during his months in Europe, his pictures suggest spontaneity, playfulness, and a pure delight in seeing."



Born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles when he was 18. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute until 1960, before working briefly in commercial advertising. In 1961, Ruscha embarked on a career as an artist and produced enigmatic paintings, drawings, and photographic books of gasoline stations, apartment buildings, palm trees, vacant lots, and Los Angeles's famous "Hollywood" sign. The irony and objective stance of his works from this period placed him in the context of Pop art and Conceptualism, but Ruscha consistently defies categorization. Now 66, Ruscha is recognized as one of our most important and influential contemporary American artists.



The Whitney first exhibited Ed Ruscha's work in the 1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting. It has since collected his art and exhibited it in several group exhibitions. In 1982, the Whitney was the New York venue for an SFMoMA retrospective. Among the Whitney's holdings are two master paintings, Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962) and Hollywood to Pico (1998), two portfolios of prints, six individual prints, and three drawings. This initiative extends a vigorous program of acquisitions in contemporary photography that began with the formation of the Photography Collection Committee in 1991.



The photographs, on view in the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Lobby Gallery on the first floor, are being shown concurrently with a landmark exhibition of Ruscha's drawings, Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha , organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, to be shown in the Peter Norton Family Galleries on the third floor.



On Thursday, June 24, 2004 at 7 pm, in conjunction with the exhibitions Cotton Puffs, Q-tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha and Ed Ruscha and Photography, the museum presents An Evening with Ed Ruscha, in which the artist discusses his process, influences, and relationship to photography, drawing, and popular culture.

On Thursday, July 1 at 7 pm, in Ruscha/Baldessari/Rauschenberg: The Artist and his Films, Whitney curator Chrissie Iles highlights Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, and Robert Rauschenberg and their films of the late 1960s and early 1970s with screenings of Ruscha's Miracle (1975) and Premium (1970), Baldessari's Police Drawing (1971), and Rauschenberg's Linoleum (1966).


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