Ed Ruscha - The Collection of Halsey Minor New York Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London

  • Exhibited

    London, Gagosian Gallery, Ed Ruscha: Paintings, February 5 – March 20, 2008

  • Literature

    B. Fer, Ed Ruscha: Paintings, Ostfildern, 2008, n.p. (illustrated); B. Schwabsky, “Ed Ruscha: Talks About His Most Recent Paintings,” Artforum, New York, 2008, p. 358 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I was searching for a title and I saw this slogan on a grocery truck in LA . In the second of the two paintings these buildings suddenly shoot up out of nowhere like an instant industrial village of Wal-Marts and Costcos—so that says to me lower prices. But then you have your higher standards—there’s some serious geology going on in those mountains." (Ed Ruscha in O. Ward, “Ed Ruscha: Interview,” Time Out, London, 2007)
    Ed Ruscha’s response when asked what inspired the title of the present work, Higher Standards/Lower Prices, epitomizes his artistic career.  Ruscha’s art tends to have a timeless quality to it, somehow managing to stay incredibly relevant without tying itself too much to one particular decade or movement. He culls inspiration from day to day American culture – in this case, the supersize stores and billboards that span the country. These symbols of consumer culture are as deeply rooted in the American vernacular as the mountains Ruscha paints. And what incredible mountains he paints. The towering white peaks he gives us are beautiful studies in geology and technique, deriving from a recognizable amalgam of famous mountains and hinting towards a long history of art historical relevance on the subject.
    Mountain imagery has always served as a visual shorthand for the sublime, from the pantheist canvases of Caspar David Friedrich and the Catskills of the Hudson River School to Ansel Adams’s photographs of the Rockies . Mountains, in their everyday untouchability, still seem like residences for the gods. But Ruscha resists knee-jerk spiritualism (and, one might argue, his own often mentioned dormant Catholicism) by emblazoning slogans that render the scenes absurd. M. Schwendener, “Ed Ruscha – Reviews”, ArtForum, New York , November, 2002
    Ruscha is perhaps most widely known for his word paintings which he began in the 1960s. His clever word associations pop off brightly colored canvases daring the viewer to react. They range from one-off declarations such as OOF, LISP, Noise to longer phrases that cause the viewer to take a momentary puzzled pause. Ruscha would stumble upon these words, considering them to be his own version of Duchampian readymades. When the words began to invade his mountain paintings the result was boldly striking and beautifully absurd. The mountains receded to the background while statements such as THE and CO. threw themselves at the front of the plane with big, look-at-me lettering making it impossible not to enjoy these clever combinations.
    Much in the same way that the words thematically vandalize nature in these earlier mountain paintings, so do the buildings in the present work. The strength of Higher Standards/Lower Prices begins with the juxtaposition of the two panels next to each other. The diptychs is a comparative study. In both panels, the snow capped peaks of his mountains sparkle in warm sunlight under contrasting ashen sky. They remain wonderfully unadulterated in the first panel however, in the second panel the tops of two unrealistically tall buildings begin to obstruct the view of the mountains. The building rooftops are oddly and jarringly out of place against this pristine background. The way the rooftops appear to hover in the lower plane of the canvas creates a dynamically active canvas, as if they could, at any moment, continue to rise.
    This work is part of a series of seven works created by Ruscha in 2007. The presumably gargantuan size of these fictitious buildings speaks to how commercialism and consumerism are slowly encroaching on the natural world. This work is about before and after and the passage of time. The presence of these man-made structures is unnatural and harsh yet they accurately reflect the effect that our consumer-driven culture has on the dwindling unspoiled natural world. These megastores are empires in their own right and have left an indelible imprint on our world. The unblemished views of these pristine monuments are slowly being encroached upon by sprawling suburban strip malls and colossal super stores. “The buildings violate the beauty of these mountains,” says Ruscha. “It’s kind of a comment on the rolling thunder of change. It’s only a matter of time before everything decays and rapidly disintegrates.” He pauses, then chuckles. “But I’m not a nihilist! I do have optimism towards the future” (A. Sooke, “Ed Ruscha: Painting’s maverick man of letters,” Telegraph, February 9, 2008).
    The present work makes a much subtler but much more powerful statement than some of Ruscha’s more overtly bold pieces. Without specifically knowing the roots of Ruscha’s inspiration, the viewer would be hard-pressed to specifically identify the structures occupying the forefront of this canvas. The abstraction with which he renders the buildings is classic Ruscha – he doesn’t give us too much but just enough to trigger our imaginations and associations. The subtlety of this rendering allows this painting to leave a far more substantial imprint on the viewer and make a much stronger statement on the condition of our world. If Ruscha had chosen to write the names of the stores across the front of the works as he did with his Standard gas stations or his Hollywood signs, the effect would have been entirely different.
    Ruscha’s mountain ranges suggest some of the world’s most famous peaks from Mt. Everest to the Matterhorn. They also suggest fictitious mountains, such as the Paramount Pictures emblem, which are just as famous. The Paramount emblem is said to have derived from a casual sketch done by the W. W. Hodkinson, founder of the studio. This simple drawing was based on his own personal vernacular from a childhood spent in Utah. In much the same way, Ruscha’s mountains are amalgams of memories and derived images of the real and the invented.
    This very subject has inspired a far-ranging group of artists from Andy Warhol’s pop representations of the Paramount logo to Georgia O’Keefe’s evocative canvases of brilliantly pastel-hued mountain ranges. Like Warhol, Ruscha has been classified as a pop artist but unlike Warhol, he does not epitomize the movement. His art bears a surrealist influence with its appeal to the subconscious interpretation of its symbolism. He dips his toes into Dadaism, frequently addressing the influence that Marcel Duchamp had on his art. Perhaps, more subconsciously, one can also see the influence of Rene Magritte on his work, in particular on the word paintings.
    Ed Ruscha is easily among the most ingenious artists of the 20th century. Higher Standards/Lower Price is a stunning diptych which speaks to his incredible far-reaching vision as an artist, touching on both the malaise and beauty of our transience and permanent footstep on this world.
    In a 2005 interview with Richard Prince, Ruscha and Prince banter back and forth regarding art and their inspiration for it:
    RP: I’ve never thought there was such a thing as pop art, but if I did I would boil it down to two artists—you and Warhol. Warhol, East coast; Ruscha, West coast.
    ER: I believe that cultural curators will forever be unearthing significant unknown American artists, writers, musicians, architects, and composers. These people will be in every state of the Union, not just New York, Chicago, or L.A. Am I dreaming?
    RP: I collect your books. I have almost all of them. I even have a great copy of Dutch Details. Pools and parking lots are so much about where you live. Only in Los Angeles. I really love the photos of the empty parking lots. Anybody doing abstract art should take a long look. Do you ever wonder what else is out there that you’ve seen but never really see? I guess what I’m trying to say is, When does something like parking lots kick in?
    ER: I love to look “at” things that I would normally look through or beyond, but I guess I can’t always be at attention. I want to be up to speed when an idea kicks in, but often I’m half asleep or half awake.
    RP: Is it newspapers, novels, comic books, fiction, biographies, or histories for you?
    ER: I read newspapers, nature, geology, and science books, some sci-fi, J.G. Ballard, H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, and John Fante. I just finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
    RP: You’ve influenced a lot of other artists. What do you think about the idea of continuation?
    ER: Continuation in the realm of art is a solid idea. Artists express things for the moment to be added upon later by others, or maybe reexpressed or even reused. Fodder for the future. We’re all frozen food for the future.
    RP: I like that you photograph gasoline stations and apartment buildings and then paint them too. It’s kind of like you own them. Walker Evans said something like, “I photograph what I collect.” Do you ever go beachcombing?
    ER: I do collect images in my mind of many gas stations. They sit there, sometimes transformed into mini-markets or massage parlors or just abandoned completely. Some I haven’t seen in over 40 years--funny, I don’t own the things I collect.
    RP: I read somewhere that you think the best paintings are not the most realistic.
    ER: All my life I’ve been thrown by the word “realistic”--I think I said I’m essentially an abstract artist.
    R. Prince, “Interview: Richard Prince with Ed Ruscha (2005),” American Suburb X, (Online content) July 2005

  • Artist Biography

    Ed Ruscha

    American • 1937

    Ed Ruscha is an Los Angeles-based artist whose art, like California itself, is both geographically rooted and a metaphor for an American state of mind. A deft creator of photography, film, painting, drawing, prints and artist books, Ruscha has executed works for over 60 years that are simultaneously unexpected and familiar, both ironic and sincere.

    His most iconic works are poetic and deadpan, epigrammatic text with nods to advertising copy, juxtaposed with imagery that is either cinematic and sublime or seemingly wry documentary. Whether the subject is his iconic Standard Gas Station or the Hollywood Sign, a parking lot or highway, his works are a distillation of American idealism, echoing the expansive Western landscape and optimism unique to the post-war world.

    View More Works


Higher Standards/Lower Prices


Acrylic on canvas in two parts.

48 x 110 in. (121.9 x 279.4 cm) each.
Signed, titled and dated “Ed Ruscha ‘Higher Standards’ 2007” on the reverse of the left panel; signed, titled and dated “Ed Ruscha ‘Lower Prices’ 2007” on the reverse of the right panel. This work will be included in a forthcoming volume of Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,426,500

The Collection of Halsey Minor

13 May 2010
New York