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Ed Ruscha «Every Building on the Sunset Strip»
Ed Ruscha, «Every Building on the Sunset Strip», 1965
Photography | © Ed Ruscha

United States | photo series

 Ed Ruscha

born 1937 in Omaha (Nebraska), attended the Chouinard Art Institut in Los Angeles from 1957 to 1960. His billboard-like paintings, in which words and sentences are compressed to typographically-catchy slogans, embrace in their aesthetics and contents the popular culture of America’s west coast. His artist’s books of the 1960s exercised an enduring influence on Concept Art as well as on artistic photography. Conceived as multiples – numbering from 400 to more than 2000 copies for the first edition – Ruscha’s small booklets with titles like «Twenty-six Gasoline Stations» (1963), «Some Los Angeles Apartments» (1965), «Royal Road Test» (1967), and «Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass» (1968) greatly differed from the volumes of photography by authors-photographers such as Robert Frank and Walker Evans: In place of images ordered along the lines of a formal and content-related criteria, Ruscha advocates the serial listing. The actual photographs make no demands on artistic quality, which Ruscha delegated in part to the photographic act, undermining the central meaning of artistic photography as the artist’s signature up until then, by his use of an automatic camera («Every Building on the Sunset Strip,» 1965) or completing photographic works on commission («Thirty-four Parking Lots in Los Angeles,» 1967 ). «Ruscha’s books,» states Jeff Wall – in his text on signs of artistic indifference, whether in photography or Conceptual Art, «Zeichen der Indifferenz: Aspekte der Photographie in der, oder als, Konzeptkunst» (in: Jeff Wall, Szenarien im Bildraum der Wirklichkeit. Essay und Interviews, eds. Gregor Stemmrich, Dresden, 1997, pp. 375-434) – «destroy the genre of the ‹book of photography,› the classical form in which art photography expressed its autonomy.» Artists such as John Baldessari, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Jan Dibetts, John Hilliard, and others, who since the end of the Sixties were exhibited together under the label of Concept Art, produced parallel to Ruscha’s books similar works or, in any case, took hold of the essentially banal, sometimes ironic, sometimes pseudo-scientific work process that Ruscha used and then developed it further. Not through the degrading of photography to a simple recording instrument did Ruscha become a reference point for artistic photography, but rather by way of his conceptual methodology and choice of visual objects. This is also what makes Bernd and Hilla Becher refer to him as a model, and why Charles Jenkins mentions him in the foreword of the catalog New Topographics.