Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “There are things that I’m constantly looking at that I feel should be elevated to greater status, almost to philosophical status or to a religious status. That’s why taking things out of context is a useful tool to an artist. It’s the concept of taking something that’s not subject matter and making it subject matter.”
    — Ed Ruscha


    Internationally celebrated for his uniquely witty manifestations of American archetypes, Ed Ruscha is one of the most iconic contemporary artists. In a career spanning over six decades, Ruscha has dutifully chronicled the West Coast vernacular in an almost documentarian fashion, frequently referencing consumerist iconography and Hollywood culture. Although widely considered a Pop Art pioneer, Ruscha's impressive oeuvre is one that defies simple categorisation, delving into a constellation of styles and media. However, be it slang phrases stylized in gunpowder or photographs of gas stations on desert highways, his works are all infused with a distinct California cool, evoking the casual nostalgia of 1960s and 70s Americana.


    Emblematic of his distilled, deadpan aesthetic, Spied Upon Scene - Window comprises a view of a mountain obstructed by a window grid as if we were observing the scene from inside a house. Here, Ruscha reimagines traditional landscape painting with a theatrical twist, the window frame isolating and confining the painter’s view like a stage curtain or the fading vignette over a silent film. Ruscha demonstrates landscape and nature to be abstract ideas drawn from the depths of his memory and imagination, rather than strict, photographic replications of reality. Much like the rest of his repertoire, the present work is imbued with an air of sentimentality and strangeness, enticing the viewer to immerse themselves in his dream-like plane of visual storytelling and American zen. With an optimism unique to the post-war generation, the Los-Angeles based artist creates works that are simultaneously unexpected and familiar, oscillating between ironic and sincere.



    Spied Upon Scene 


    “I’ve been influenced by the movies, particularly the panoramic-ness of the wide screen.”
    — Ed Ruscha


    As denoted by the title, the present work is part of the Spied Upon Scene series, which Ruscha began in 2017. Characterised by majestic mountains and idyllic ranges, the series depicts stunning natural scenery that one would find within the pages of travel books, on postcards, and in Hollywood blockbusters. Recalling the paintings of his earlier Mountain series, Spied Upon Scene also seems to be a play on the Paramount Pictures logo, a nod to the American film industry and Los Angeles culture, both of which are themes that heavily inform Ruscha’s works. In the present series, the mountains are partially restricted from view, and we observe the landscape as if looking through a window or peering through the camera lens. Describing this framing technique as a ‘halo effect’, the artist explains: ‘When using that halo effect, of the frame or the peephole, it can be like looking into a window or out of a window. And mine, more or less, look out the window. You might say his look into the window. That makes him a peeping tom. And that makes me just a common observer of landscape.’ i


    As suggested by the exhibition Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me (2019), a solo show at the Gagosian in London that featured the present work, American artist Louis Michel Eilshemius was one of Ruscha’s major inspirations behind Spied Upon Scene. Despite being a rather obscure painter from the turn of the century, Eilshemius' works have been collected by many American museums and big names in both modern and contemporary art, such as Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons, and Peter Schuyff, among various others. Displayed alongside Ruscha’s paintings, the connection between Spied Upon Scene and the Eilshemius works from Ruscha’s own collection is instantly elucidated — his enrapturing portrayals of arcadian imagery are semi-obstructed by painted frames, a clear source of inspiration for the telescopic views present in Ruscha’s mountainous depictions. ‘My drive in this series was not to create a picture frame but to create an idea that you would be focusing on a trapped vision, like you’re being shown something,’ muses Ruscha. ii


    Installation view of the present work (left) at Gagosian, London, Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me, 18 June – 2 August 2019
    © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

    The present work is pictured alongside A Scene Through a Window (2018), which recently sold for HK$6,048,000 at auction in April 2022


    Collector’s Digest


    Heralded by Tate Gallery as ‘one of the world’s most important artists’ iii, Ruscha’s career has spanned over six decades. Having been represented by Gagosian since 1993, the gallery has honoured Ruscha with a phenomenal 21 solo exhibitions, the most recent ones being Ed Ruscha: Paintings (2020-2021) in New York and Ed Ruscha; Dedication Stories in Saanen.


    The present work, Spied Upon Scene - Window, has been widely exhibited. It first appeared as part of the solo show, Ed Ruscha: New Works on Paper (2017), with Peder Lund in Oslo, then Ed Rusha – VERY Works from the UBS Art Collection (2018-2019), a travelling exhibit that was held at the Louisiana Musem of Modern Art in Humlebaek and KODE Museum in Bergen. Finally, Gagosian in London featured the present work as part of Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me (2019).


    Installation view of the present work (left) at Oslo, Peder Lund, Ed Ruscha: New Works on Paper, 1 June - 9 September 2017
    © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian


    Ruscha’s expansive oeuvre has been shown at countless solo and group exhibitions at prestigious galleries and institutions. His works are held in numerous prominent public collections, including but not limited to The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Gallery, London. In 2005, Ruscha represented the United States at the 51st Venice Biennale with Course of Empire, an installation of ten paintings that was later shown in 2018 at the National Gallery in London.



    i Edward Ruscha, quoted in Leta Grzan, Viet-Nu Nguyen and Ed Ruscha, ‘Eilshemius And Me: An Interview With Ed Ruscha’, Gagosian Quarterly, Fall 2019, online

    ii ibid.

    iii ‘Ed Ruscha and the Art of the Everyday’, Tate Gallery, online

    • Provenance

      Gagosian, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Oslo, Peder Lund, Ed Ruscha: New Works on Paper, 1 June - 9 September 2017
      Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Bergen, KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Ed Rusha – VERY Works from the UBS Art Collection, 17 May - 16 December 2018, p. 109 (illustrated)
      London, Gagosian, Ed Ruscha: Eilshemius & Me, 18 June - 2 August 2019, pp. 17, 47-49 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Ed Ruscha

      American • 1937

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

      His most iconic works are at turns 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 postwar America.

      View More Works

Property from an Important Collector


Spied Upon Scene: Window

signed, titled and dated '"SPIED UPON SCENE: WINDOW" Ed Ruscha 2017' on the reverse
acrylic on museum board paper
100.4 x 151.3 cm. (39 1/2 x 59 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,500,000 - 5,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,150,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022