Ed Ruscha: On The Road
May 24 - September 2nd 2012
Journeys are for the making, life is for the taking. This devil-may-care philosophy seems horribly outdated in an age where measures, cautions, rules and regulations follow us from bedroom to boardroom. Collaboratively, Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac become the complete antithesis of aesthetic and ideological rigidity in MOCA's new exhibition Ed Ruscha: On The Road. His straightforward, sparse cultural commentary supplemented with images of a mythologized America, Ruscha brings the brutally honest, atmospheric writing of Kerouac to a contemporary audience through text and canvas.
The exhibition begins with aerial photography of parking lots and empty paved spaces sourced from the Margulies Collection, based locally in Wynwood. While not directly related to Kerouac's text or Ruscha's visualizations, these images augment a mode of communication specific to the larger part of Ruscha's practice; one which highlights the easily discarded, distinctly American spaces between concrete jungles, suburbs, bustling towns and active workplaces. What does 'distinctly American' mean? In viewing random photographs of asphalt configurations, Ruscha illuminates the originality of the concept, rather than the object. The repetitious forms, created and made essential in this country, act as associative triggers to what can happen, what does happen, and what happens just beyond there. As a precursor to the exhibition, these images prepare the audience for the lyricism of Ruscha and Kerouac's collaboration. If there is a possibility at arriving at even a broad descriptive term for a 'distinctly American' experience, both Ruscha and Kerouac have produced it in the current moment made consumable via paint and prose.
A special edition of Kerouac's text (the actual 120-foot scroll on which he typed continuously for three weeks now resides at the Boott Cotton Mills Museumin in Lowell, Massachusetts) anchors the show, produced by the Gagosian Gallery and Steidl. Each page is accompanied by an original photographic element selected by Ruscha. The by-products of these fifty individually-framed pages sit in an adjacent room. Canvases swathed in emerald green, royal teal, brown and charcoal backgrounds, mountainous forms in the foreground and passages from the story rendered in white block text are laid out with triumphant banality. The colors act independently of literary suggestion, the text appears meaningless in and of itself, and the mountains could be anywhere and nowhere. As with all of Ruscha's painted work, his aim is perfectly realized; to mute inherent meaning in the image while permitting a hazy state of regard for Kerouac's poetics, produced without judgment or even full comprehension.
Trying to read even three lines of the printed work, much less align Ruscha's photo-collaged beer glasses, Cadillac fins, barn houses and gas station signage, turns the vision into a thick haze. The canvases, therefore, offer even less insight into the passionately unfiltered observations of the Beat Generation's most celebrated voice (even if he, himself, had disowned such a distinction once stating 'I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic.') Likewise, the text gives precious little room for the tremendous reputation of America's most celebrated living Pop artist. Perfectly balanced. Call it even.
Ed Ruscha, Greatest Seventy-Yard Passer, 2011. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic based in Brooklyn. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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