5/28/10: Ed Ruscha’s books

May 28, 2010 at 9:53 am (art, culture, interesting, life, other sites to see)

Ed Ruscha is one of those people that still, after all these years, a disappointing number of East coast art students know about. It’s shocking to me how many 3rd and 4th year BFA students and plenty of MFA candidates draw a blank stare when I mention his name. What’s especially weird about it is that if you have graduated from art school and spent a few years in the art world, it seems unimaginable that anyone alive wouldn’t know who Ruscha is.

I’ve heard various theories as to why this is the case (the Biggie vs Tupac/East vs West coast one is by far the most frequently cited). Personally, I think it’s because the artist has worked across mediums a lot, the photographers consider him a painter, the painters a photographer, and the print/book people (who are REALLY the ones who should be teaching him) just assume he’s been taught in either photo or painting class.

Well, don’t get me started. But the point is, I’ve been thinking about Ruscha’s books a LOT over the last couple of weeks:

His books, which contain mostly straightforward “documentary” photographs of what is mentioned on the cover (apartments, pools, gas stations, etc; in my favorite case, “Baby Cakes,” his book features pictures of both babies and cakes), are totally phenomenal. And maybe because they look so straightforward that they don’t get considered by book art teachers enough (I’ve seen people lecture endlessly on some obscure artist who made a really insane tunnel book but then completely skip over Ruscha’s contribution to the field), but to me, this is their strength. They float around and find their way into regular bookstores (or they did, before they became highly collectible). They’re inviting, accessible, and understandable. And yet they point to a bigger project and act as a gateway to the rest of the artist’s work.

No matter how many Kindles are sold, books aren’t going away. Definitely not books that rely upon imagery – I would love to have a Kindle so that I can bring it with me rather than lugging around some art history book, but I’m never going to get one to look at art/design/fashion/etc books. For those, I need the book before me, to have the ability to leaf through it and turn it by hand. And with printmaking processes becoming cheaper and easier to do in short runs, I’m surprised more artists aren’t taking advantage of the medium.

Books are (or can be) an intervention into everyday life. They’re stealth operators.

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