Edward Ruscha

Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio)

1976, printed 1995

Not on display

Edward Ruscha born 1937
Photograph, black and white from altered negative on paper
Unconfirmed: 508 × 751 mm
frame: 670 × 915 × 45 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Artist Rooms Foundation 2011
On long term loan


Whiskey A-Go-Go (Sunset Strip Portfolio) 1966, printed 1995 is a black and white photograph by the American artist Ed Ruscha. The image depicts the famous Los Angeles nightclub Whiskey A-Go-Go, which occupied a corner of the intersection between Sunset Boulevard and North Clark Street. This building, with its façade detailed with windows and posters, takes up much of the image. A small stretch of sky, a distant building, a portion of the road, and the rear of a car are visible to the right and towards the bottom of the frame. Black and white scratches interrupt the image in irregular vertical strips. They contrast with the otherwise horizontal format of the photograph and offer it a grid-like quality.

This photograph was originally taken for Ruscha’s self-published photobook Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966. To create the content of this book Ruscha mounted two motorised cameras on to the back of a pick-up truck and drove it down a mile and a half stretch of Sunset Boulevard, photographing both sides of the road as he passed. He then created photomontages from the negatives produced, resulting in two continuous views of the buildings on each side of the road. The book is presented in a concertina format that is seven and a half metres in length. Whiskey A-Go-Go now forms part of a separate suite of photographs entitled Sunset Strip Portfolio 1995, which is made up of nine large-format reprints of specific sections of the original book. Before reprinting these photographs in 1995, Ruscha scored the surface of his negatives with razor blades and sandpaper, which resulted in the rows of scratches that cover this image. Every photograph from the Sunset Strip Portfolio is in the ARTIST ROOMS collection (see Tate AL00286AL00291).

After photographing Sunset Boulevard for his book Ruscha claimed that: ‘All I was after was that storefront plane. It’s like a Western town in that way. A storefront plane of a Western town is just paper, and everything behind it is just nothing.’ (Quoted in Prince 2011, p.26.) This quote highlights Ruscha’s preoccupation with the banal aesthetic qualities of Los Angeles’s architecture and the empty stereotypes that they have come to signify. These concerns can be detected in much of his photography of the 1960s and 1970s, which often make reference to California’s emergent automobile and leisure cultures through familiar architectural subjects such as parking lots (see, for example, State Board of Equalization, 14601 Sherman Way, Van Nuys 1967, printed 1999, Tate AL00262) and swimming pools (see, for example, Pool #5 1968, printed 1997, Tate AL00278). In a diversion from this concern with the everyday, Sunset Strip Portfolio pays specific attention to famous locales in Los Angeles. By damaging the negative and subjecting the image to visual alteration, Ruscha highlights the capacity of significance, whether of a particular building, a street or the city as a whole, to collapse over time.

In the same year that Ruscha captured this image of Whiskey A-Go-Go, the pop band The Miracles recorded their famous song ‘Going to a Go-Go’, which would later be covered by The Rolling Stones. This song pays tribute to the legendary status of the nightclub, which rose to prominence during the 1960s. At this time the venue was instrumental to the growth of Los Angeles’s music scene, and acted as a launch pad for many famous bands such as The Doors and Van Halen. As art historian Mary Richards has argued, the esteemed place that Ruscha’s subjects hold within a range of cultural circles (in this case, rock ’n’ roll music) contextualises Sunset Strip Portfolio within the growth of subcultures on the American West Coast after the Second World War (Richards 2008, p.95). Additionally, the marks that Ruscha scored into the surface of his negatives imbue the scene with a sense of disorder and violence. This aesthetic disruption references the same surrealistic danger found in Ruscha’s photobook Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass 1968, as well as his polluted landscapes such as DEC. 30th 2005 (Tate AR00065).

Further reading
Mary Richards, Ed Ruscha, London 2008, p.95.
Martin Gayford, ‘Ed Ruscha: An Interview’, Daily Telegraph, September 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/6224022/Ed-Ruscha-interview.html, accessed 26 January 2016.
Richard Prince, ‘A Long Drive’ in Michael Auping (ed.), Ed Ruscha: Road Tested, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas 2011.

Aaron Shaw
University of Edinburgh
January 2016

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

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