Edward Ruscha

Pool #6

1968, printed 1997

Not on display

Edward Ruscha born 1937
Photograph, colour on paper
Unconfirmed, image: 394 × 394 mm
unconfirmed, support: 610 × 610 mm
frame: 580 × 580 × 45mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Artist Rooms Foundation 2011
On long term loan


Pool #6 1968, printed 1997 is a colour photograph taken by the American artist Ed Ruscha. It depicts an outdoor swimming pool which takes up most of the image. Five pale lap-lines run vertically across the length of the pool, with the outer lines appearing to converge diagonally towards a vanishing point. The poolside is visible at the top of the image, featuring grass, trees, signage and seating. The tops of the trees and the building that surrounds the pool are reflected in the still blue water despite being cut out of the scene by the photograph’s upper edge. The shadows of a palm tree and a diving board are also cast over the water from the right, but the objects themselves are not present in the image.

This photograph was originally part of Ruscha’s photobook Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. To create this series Ruscha took nine photographs of privately owned and municipal swimming pools while travelling around Las Vegas and his native Los Angeles. He concluded the suite with one image of a shattered drinking glass. Pool #6 was captured using a lightweight and portable 2¼-inch format Yashica camera, as was typical of the artist’s practice at this time, lending itself well to his interest in photographing outdoors. This book was Ruscha’s first self-published series in which he experimented with colour film; for many of his other series during this decade, such as Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966, he used black and white film. Pool #6 now exists within a separate print portfolio titled Pool Series 1997, which consists of large-format reprints of his swimming pool images. All of these are in the ARTIST ROOMS collection (see Tate AL00274AL00281 and AL00226).

The Pool Series is architectural in focus and so underscores Ruscha’s sustained interest in the built environment of Southern California during the 1960s and 1970s. In a departure from his frequent focus on subjects surrounding Los Angeles’s emergent car culture, such as gasoline stations (see, for example, Tate AL00242) and parking lots (see, for example, Tate AL00252), the swimming pools in this series appear as a motif of leisure. Now seen as one of the city’s most clichéd symbols, the backyard pool has become synonymous with the increasingly prosperous, active and social lifestyles that developed on the American West Coast after the Second World War. However, as art historian Alexandra Schwartz has written, ‘these pools were often located at various cheap Las Vegas motels, not glamourous Beverly Hills estates’ (Schwartz 2010, p.160). Despite the technicolour aestheticisation of Pool #6, the grass that surrounds the inviting azure water is sun-bleached and unkempt, and the scene is empty of subjects.

Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, despite containing only ten photographs, is sixty-four pages long. The images are distributed irregularly throughout the book and are often separated by blank pages, which perhaps echoes the vacancy of the pools themselves. Ruscha claimed that he printed the series in this way because it was the cheapest way to do so in colour. However, the artist has also noted that the blank pages ‘gave body to the book’ (quoted in Rowell 2006, p.30). This sentiment was echoed in another interview with critic A.D. Coleman, where Ruscha claimed: ‘I’m not interested that much with the medium … I want the end product; that’s what I’m really interested in’ (quoted in A.D. Coleman, ‘I’m Not Really A Photographer’, New York Times, 10 September 1972, p.35). The subject of Pool #6, and in turn the other images in the suite, appears less important to Ruscha than the physicality and objecthood of his photobooks. This has led art historian Margaret Iversen to contextualise these works within a legacy of conceptual art practice originating from the work of French artist Marcel Duchamp. Ruscha’s interest in the tactile and material nature of his books reflects Duchamp’s focus on the object-as-art, as seen in his ‘readymades’, such as Fountain 1917, replica 1964 (Tate T07573). The book format also allows Ruscha’s photographs to be ‘circulated without the support of the framing gallery system’, echoing Duchamp’s frequent rejection of institutional valuation (Iversen 2010, p.13).

Further reading
Margrit Rowell, Ed Ruscha: Photographer, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2006, reproduced p.112.
Margaret Iversen, ‘Auto-maticity: Ruscha and Performative Photography’, in Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen (eds.), Photography After Conceptual Art, London 2010.
Alexandra Schwartz, Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2010.

Aaron Shaw
University of Edinburgh
January 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research Partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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Display caption

This image was included in Ruscha’s artist’s book Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968. This was Ruscha’s first colour photographic series. As the title indicates, the book includes nine photographs of pools and one of a broken glass tumbler, placed at the end almost like the punchline of an absurd visual joke. This series continues Ruscha’s project of documenting the Los Angeles landscape. All the pools are located at low-budget motels. These highly artificial leisure spaces can be seen as symbolic of Southern California’s ‘easy living’ culture.

Gallery label, July 2019

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