‘The photograph is just a surrogate gas station. The photograph by itself doesn’t mean anything to me; it’s the gas station that’s the important thing.’
The everyday or commonplace form Ed Ruscha’s subject matter in his paintings, photographs, books, prints and drawings. His black and white photographs of banal and familiar subjects such as apartment blocks, car parks and palm trees feature in his books, while gas stations, the Hollywood sign and trademarks populate his paintings. Speaking of his first book Twentysix Gasoline Stations 1962 Ed Ruscha once said that his photographs were merely a collection of facts and his books are is like ‘a collection of readymades.’
Marcel Duchamp invented the term ‘readymade’ to describe a series of works in which appropriated objects were transformed by their presentation in the gallery. Duchamp argued that art was about ideas and by choosing an everyday object he was designating it as a work of art. Duchamp was a key influence on Ruscha and the emergence of conceptual art in the late 1960s. Artists grouped under this broad title increasingly questioned the nature of art, the role and status of the artist.
For his book Real Estate Opportunities 1970 Ruscha made a series of photographs, intended to look like conventional real estate photographs, of empty lots captioned with the locations. Four photographs from the Real Estate Opportunities shooting sessions were later editioned in 2003 as Vacant Lots 1970/2003.
As well as conceptual art Ed Ruscha’s work has much in common with pop art such as his appropriation of the everyday and references to mass media. While his paintings and drawings draw on popular references, his playful use of irony, paradox and absurdist juxtapositions have set him firmly apart from any movement.
Discuss the definition of conceptual art offered in the glossary and why you think Ruscha considered a conceptual artist.
Take photographs of places, which you encounter on a daily basis or are perhaps part of your daily routine. Think about how you might present them e.g. in a book form or a gallery wall.
Andy Warhol, like Ruscha, was associated with pop art because of his depiction of consumer goods and use of images from popular culture.