am 6. September 2006
A well-produced book of Ruscha's photo work to coincide with his Whitney Museum exhibition. In the first forty pages Margit Rowell (who organised the exhibition) writes about Rusha's life and influences, an intriguing mixture of European commonplace and culture and heavy doses of American commercialism and print pop culture. I thought though that she found it hard going to explain some of his work within the context of fine art. Ruscha doesn't easily fit into a high culture setting and to my mind some of his endeavours are just plain mundane: the 'Babycakes' book for instance (I fancy Ed might well agree with me, too) but he is prepared to have a go at anything, painting, photography, publishing, films and clearly some great art has come out of all these different mediums.
The photo section of the book (114 pages and beautifully printed in 175dpi) runs from some of his first photo work in the late fifties, his European trip in 1961 to the last one, a color print presciently titled The End#4 from 1998. Annoyingly some of the images in this section could have been larger on the page, frequently the white space overpowers a photo that has plenty of detail. Included are eleven of my favorites, his aerial shots of LA parking lots, actually taken by photographer Art Alanis one Sunday in 1967, when the lots were empty.
Not having seen any of Rusha's famous books I was surprised to read in Rowell's essay that some of them have many blank pages. Ruscha's creative ideas only stretched to so many single images but a book has many pages, so why not just leave some of them blank and maintain the medium of a book. Apart from blank pages there was always the option of just changing the subject. His 1964 'Various Small Fires' features fifteen snapshots of an incendiary nature (a Zippo lighter, a match, domestic gas range, a smoking cigarette, for instance) in a forty-eight page book but there is a sixteenth shot of a glass of milk. Ed said, in 1965, "Milk seemed to make the book more interesting and gave it more cohesion". Go figure!
The back of the book lists the exhibits, a selected bibliography, chronology and finally the index. Overall an excellent overview of Rusha's photography and confirming to me, at least, that he is a bit of a creative enigma.