American Collections blog

16 October 2009

I think I'll....maybe, no, wait a minute

Rushcha_new Reading the Metro on the way to work the other day, I was surprised to find a piece on the American artist Ed Ruscha. Being a fan, I was pleased to discover that Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting has just opened at the Hayward.

I was reminded of a small exhibition that I worked on some years ago 'From Laycock Abbey to the Sunset Strip,' which juxtaposed William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature with some of Ruscha's little photobooks from the 1960s (it had seemed a good idea at the time). The exhibition included two of my favourites - Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), an accordion-fold book which, when fully opened, measures 27 feet and shows, well, an image of every building on the Sunset Strip, and Royal Road Test (1967), in which a series of photographs document the fate of a typewriter thrown on to Highway 91 from a speeding 1963 Buick.

Ruscha didn't want to make expensive limited edition books but high quality mass produced objects - 'I could print a hundred books each and sell them at $50 apiece as great works of art. But I don't want to do that. I want to get the price down, so everyone can afford one. I want to be the Henry Ford of book making.'

A lot has happened since then. For a start, the Library has now acquired the Fox Talbot archive, which contains many wonderful things, including a beautiful copy of The Pencil of Nature (look out for it in our forthcoming exhibition Points of View). And it's just as well that we acquired those photobooks when we did since they have become very collectable indeed, with prices that would make your jaw drop. I wonder what Ruscha thinks about it all.

The papers have also been full of the changes that the Obamas have made to the artwork in their living quarters and offices in the White House. I was amused to read that the President 's selection included Ruscha's text painting on indecision I Think I'll. Our Americas office, on the other hand, has a little reproduction of Ruscha's lithograph OK. 

[C. H.]


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