Ed Ruscha - Contemporary Art Part I New York Monday, November 8, 2010 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York (2002)

  • Exhibited

    New York, Gagosian Gallery, Ed Ruscha Paintings, May 10 - June 15, 2002; Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Ed Ruscha: Mountain Paintings, 13 February - 11 April, 2004; Le Havre, Musée Malraux, Continuum, June 1 - September 4, 2006

  • Literature

    R. Smith, “Art Review; A Painter who Reads, A Reader who Paints,” The New York Times, May 24, 2002; M. Schwendener, “Ed Ruscha – Reviews: New York,” ArtForum, November, 2002; A. Gopnik, “Bones in the Ice Cream,” Ed Ruscha Paintings, Toronto, 2002, p. 7 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Sex at Noon T axes (After a painting of the same title by Ed Ruscha)
    From the ghost town’s
    fencepost, my lariat ropes
    your palindromic peak
    and hauls it to our bedroom,
    where the timbers arch to hold off
    the mountain’s hooves – no
    avalanche turns snowfall into
    uncorraled horseshoes.
    The steeds bear us upslope.
    We reach the muddy cleft
    between Maroon Bells
    and Crested Butte, gnawing
    on caribou and warmed
    liver of once noble elk.
    – Sally Van Doren
    (S. Van Doren, Sex at Noon Taxes, Louisiana, 2008, p. 3)
    Sex At Noon Taxes is ultimate Ruscha: a palindrome, a visual pun, a mountainous landscape.
    From his earliest pieces on, Ed Ruscha has always been interested in words so it is of no surprise that he would choose to experiment with the ultimate play on words: the palindrome. The palindromes he chooses are suggestive and thought-provoking. Along with Sex at Noon Taxes we have Lion in Oil, Solo Gigolos and Tulsa Slut. In referring to this series, Ruscha said: “They’re sort of auto-suggestions, right there, in the paintings. If you look long enough you’ll start seeing Tulsa sluts in there. I’m kind of prudish, in terms of outright sexual imagery – though I think it’s the basis of damn near everything we do” (A. Gopnik, “Bones in the Ice Cream,” Ed Ruscha Paintings, Toronto, 2002, p. 7). And indeed there is an unquestionable sexual element to these kaleidoscopic mountains. They are Rorschach blots open to interpretation.
    Ruscha has also always been interested in mountain imagery; however, he uses it more as an investigative backdrop for his words rather than a specific geographical reference. Emerging from this concept of landscape painting rather than the accuracy of painting landscapes, his mountains are amalgams of peaks, both real and fake, the world over. According to Ruscha “the mountains emerged from my connection to landscape, and experiencing it, and especially from driving across country. In the western half of the United States mountains just erupt from this flat landscape. They’re based on specific mountains and alterations and photographs, but they’re not really mountains in the sense that a naturalist would paint a picture of a mountain.  They’re ideas of mountains, picturing some sort of unobtainable bliss or glory—rock and ways to fall, dangerous and beautiful” (A. Gopnik, “Bones in the Ice Cream,” Ed Ruscha Paintings, Toronto, 2002, p. 7).
    Emerging into a blue lightly clouded sky is a pristine snow-capped mountain peak. Superimposed along the bottom of the work in the same crystal snow white are the words Sex At Noon Taxes, meticulously written in neutral Sans Serif. They invade the natural beauty of the landscape, creating an oddly jarring yet infinitely intriguing juxtaposition. His words are beautifully distilled human footprints on the natural world. This overlaid text creates both tension and strength when imposed atop these icy mountain scenes.  Ruscha said, “Paintings of words can be clearer to see when there is an anonymous backdrop. I’ve always believed in anonymity as far as a backdrop goes—that’s what I consider the ground or the landscape or whatever it is that’s in a painting. I do have paintings of backgrounds with foregrounds that seem to be the words or the images. That’s why I have this kind of lofty idea of a landscape that’s a background, but I don’t see it. It’s almost not there.  It’s just something to put the words on” (F. Fehlau, “Ed Ruscha,” Leave any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, 2004, p. 265).
    Should we read or admire these lofty canvases? Ruscha possesses a deadpan sense of humor. The names that march along these mountains are meant to make the paintings “neurotic”—in Ruscha’s own word. These words that float across the surface of his canvas are made even more confusing by the fact that we are unable to grasp any contextual meaning from the background, and this is exactly as Ruscha intended it. “I’m creating some sort of disorder between the different elements. And avoiding the recognizable aspect of living things by painting words. I like the feeling of an enormous pressure in a painting” Ruscha said. (E. Mahoney, “Top of the Pops,” The Guardian, August, 14, 2001).
    The kaleidoscopic, Rorschach blot is unquestionable and only heightens this feeling. Both the words and mountain are detailed mirror images of each other, creating a painting that becomes a loaded double entendre.  The beauty and interpretive possibilities that lie within these images have appealed to an array of artists, including Andy Warhol, in both their abstraction and intellectual elucidation. Ruscha allows our reading of his work to be open for interpretation although the words and image do hint in a certain direction. We can’t help but wonder what a psychologist would think of our possible analyses and which emotional and intellectual factors would be revealed. Between the symmetry of the mountains and words, we are presented with multiple possible meanings. The phrase Sex At Noon Taxes as a whole is a complete non sequitur which seems to make no sense yet it still manages to insinuate something ever so slightly film noir-esque.
    Individually each word is laden with meaning and completely contradictory.  SEX and TAXES are from opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, one replete with feelings of pleasure the other with feelings of dread. Ruscha once said “I’ve never been able to look at my work as though the words I use can be used for anything more than what I’ve done with them. In other words, I’m not combining words to make word gestures. Each word is an excursion unto itself” (F. Fehlau, “Ed Ruscha,” Leave any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, 2004, p. 192). And indeed this is perfectly attuned to the present painting where the phrase does not hold much logical meaning yet the individual words are replete with connotations. His art stretches the mind, forcing us to think outside of an already very large box.
    One can’t help but wonder how Ruscha chooses the words that he paints.  Even he cannot give us a completely certain answer: “Sometimes I’m drawn to a specific reference on the radio or in a book,” he said, “But sometimes it’s almost like they come out of the air to me and painting them seems like a natural thing to do. I’ve tried looking in dictionaries for inspiration, but it doesn’t work so well” (A. Sooke, “Ed Ruscha: Painting’s Maverick Man of Letters,” The Telegraph, February 9, 2008). For Ruscha, words are objects, linguistic ready-mades. He paints them mostly because their graphic appearance appeals to him and he enjoys the puzzles his works create for the viewers. In this way, the roots of his art have hints of Surrealism and nod to René Magritte in particular. Like Magritte his paintings are riddles. They might quicken our curiosity, but they also baffle us by only ever flirting with meaning. As Ruscha once said: “Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.” And indeed Sex At Noon Taxes does exactly that.
    “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). And these paintings are sincerely sublime: sublimely beautiful, sublimely evocative and sublimely confusing.

  • 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.

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Sex at Noon Taxes

Acrylic on canvas.
64 x 76 in. (162.6 x 193 cm).

Signed and dated “Ed Ruscha 2002” on the reverse.

$3,000,000 - 4,000,000 

Sold for $4,338,500

Contemporary Art Part I

8 November 2010
New York