Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Sheldon Solo Memorial Art Gallery


The art of Ed Ruscha has been a consistent and important presence on the art scene since 1960. Yet his works have not received the high visibility media coverage that the work of many of his peers, such as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, have garnered. This situation can, in part, be attributed to the fact that contemporary art criticism has tended to center around clearly defined movements, and Ruscha's work has resisted easy categorization. In addition, interpretations of his work have shifted over the past few decades--his work has been cited in discussions of Pop art, Conceptual art and, most recently, strategies of postmodernist appropriation. As a result of this elusive quality, his work has tended to receive only cursory mention in general overviews of the art historical chronology.

Since his emergence on the art scene in the early 1960s, Ruscha's work has evolved and matured. However, the one consistent and most significant aspect throughout his work is the emphasis on the work as the central focus of his art. An understanding of Ruscha's use of the word is critical to a comprehension of his oeuvre. Moreover, his emphasis on the verbal is crucial because it illustrates important issues in the art world during the past three decades. Ed Ruscha's works are thus incisive in their ability to lay bare critical aspects of art production and, reception, and it is this added dimension that lends greater import to his art. In the early years of his career, Ruscha's paintings were closely associated with the Pop art movement of the1960s because of their focus on images from the contemporary urban, consumer-oriented environment. Pop was a pivotal movement in the historical continuum of art in part because of its insistence on figuration, in contrast to the overwhelming predominance of abstraction in preceding and concurrent movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and Minimal art. Through its content, style, and presentation, Pop art blatantly exposed the commodification of art and of our society in general, and Ruscha's paintings reinforced this.