Ed Ruscha - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, November 11, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London
    Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, The Halsey Minor Collection, May 13, 2010, lot 7
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Ed Ruscha: Paintings, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2008, n.p (illustrated)
    This work will be included in a forthcoming volume of Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings.

  • 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, 2007 (O. Ward, “Ed Ruscha: Interview,” Time Out, London, 2007)

    Ed Ruscha’s approach to painting has always centered on the particularities of sensory contrast, be it the reflexive nature of juxtaposed word and image, the difference between the real and the artificial, or the interaction of the cinematic and the mundane. Yet his thematic roots have always brought him back to the wonders of Americana; his paintings serve as studies in perception rooted in a decidedly unique sensibility, teasing out our admiration and fascination at the sight of our most treasured landscapes manipulated. In addition, Ruscha’s keen observational skills make him a subtle manipulator, adding elements to his works of natural beauty that provoke unforeseeable sentiments in the viewer. In a nod to his first great masterpiece, Standard Station, 1963, Ruscha presents us with the present lot as a continuation of his visual puns, incorporating the title as a symbol for his serious humor—Higher Standards/Lower Prices has all the key features of a Ruscha masterpiece: grandeur, wry commentary and most tellingly, a visual twist that evokes a new conversation about painting.

    In its nearly flawless portrayal of alpine wonder, Higher Standards/Lower Prices, 2007, is positioned within an oeuvre that has documented the most sublime and the most quotidian elements of the American landscape. From his earliest efforts, Ruscha has concentrated much effort at pairing text and daring natural visuals, opening a space that synthesizes the sensorial experience at the interplay of the two. His unique and jarring pairings highlight consumerism’s ready placement at the center of the American experience.

    In the past fifteen years, Ruscha’s concentration on mountains in particular has come to represent a turning point for the artist, exploring the most majestic of natural wonders while utilizing them for his own experiments in perception. Ruscha has testified to his actual portrayal of these natural phenomena in paintings: “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).

    Indeed, Higher Standards/Lower Prices displays a visual dynamic that hints at a pair of almost fantastically independent mountains, refusing to adhere to the norms of topographic reality. Ruscha’s diptych bears an initial visual power of a continuous chain of rocky, snow-capped cliffs, rising perhaps three miles above their surrounding terrain. Against a misty gray backdrop, and crafted with the precision of Ruscha’s mechanized paint gun, his mountains bear all of the grandeur of their eponymous anthem. Yet the left panel shows us the mountains in an unaltered state, allowing the morning sun to strike them from their venous bases to their wintry peaks, highlighting every bit of their stony variations along the way. These two peaks stand independently, resolutely Romantic.

    The right panel shows the same mountains with a very obvious intrusion. Aside from Ruscha’s painterly variations between the two sets of monoliths, including (but not limited to) the sun hitting different angles at the far left, he paints two curious figures in front of the peaks. Almost lifted from the files of a computer drafting program, these two cubic forms both lack a back wall to sturdy them, adding to their fictional mystique. Cast in varying shades of gold and gray that mimic the sun and mist behind them, these superimposed shapes suggest the continuing encroachment of prefabricated commercial architecture, which, in turn, oddly evokes certain minimalist sculpture.
    But we must remember that Ruscha’s modification of his mountains in the second panel is more a study in our response to his provocation rather than an exercise in proselytizing upon a soapbox. While he once used text and image in order to create a gestalt effect within the observer, the present lot takes advantage of superimposed image alone, allowing for a more diversified experience. In addition, Ruscha’s title creates a further artistic interaction in his piece, allowing a brief textual interchange with his strictly visual picture. Ruscha’s own skills of manipulation lend his painting far more depth than a simple Romantic portrayal: “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, n.p.)

    In Higher Standards/Lower Prices, 2007 we observe Ruscha progressing from one gestalt formula to the next and finding that employing only pictures, as opposed to pictures and text, can produce the same type of dissonant feelings in the observer. Ruscha has always been able to identify and evoke our most familiar emotions as Americans by preying upon our perception of national identity. In doing so in the present lot, Ruscha brings us to a certain realization: the natural art of mountains is a departure point for our unique identification as Americans.

  • 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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Higher Standards / Lower Prices

diptych, acrylic on canvas
each 48 1/8 x 110 1/8 in. (122.2 x 279.7 cm.)
overall 48 1/8 x 220 1/8 in. (121.9 x 559.1 cm.)

Signed, titled and dated “‘HIGHER STANDARDS’ Ed Ruscha 2007" on left panel; further signed, titled and dated "‘LOWER PRICES’ Ed Ruscha 2007” on right panel. Registered with the Edward Ruscha studio number P2007.18 on a label affixed to the reverse.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,405,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM