A retrospective that explores Ed Ruscha’s engagement with the American West, and the role of this great artist in the American mythology. Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, exhibited at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In 1956, at the age of 18, Ruscha left his home in Oklahoma and drove to Los Angeles, a trip that provided him with artistic subjects for decades to come. The exhibition presents nine sections that reveal Ruscha’s fascination with the evolving landscape and iconic character of the Great American West.
These works portray the region as it is experienced through the windshield of a car, and others show Ruscha’s interest in built environments such as tacky buildings like those along the Sunset Strip or the endless asphalt of urban sprawls. Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, a photograph taken in 1963, shows a gasoline station—an iconic element of Ruscha’s work, and one that became the basis for several of his best-known paintings and prints. Another recurring theme is the romantic aura of the film industry, with its excess, obsessions, and anxieties, as we can observe in his Technicolor renditions of the Hollywood sign. The exhibition concludes with works that include the words “The End.” Ruscha is famous for making a word or phrase the sole subject of an artwork, and this pair of words could be interpreted as the end of cinematic illusion or the end of a romantic vision of the West.