Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
    Kukje Gallery, Seoul
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Ed Ruscha, November 17 - December 18, 1999, no. 8, p. 17 (illustrated on cover)

  • Literature

    Robert Dean and Lisa Turvey, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Four: 1988-1992, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, no. P1991.15, pp. 370-371 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I committed myself to painting…and I could see I was just born for the job, born to watch paint dry.” –Ruscha, 1990

    Painted in monochromatic black and white acrylic, Ed Ruscha’s Peas, Asparagus from 1991 combines his characteristic use of text with the quintessential American landscape, illustrated with just enough indication of time and place to still exude mystery. A wide vista is splayed across the horizontal canvas, and at each end is a sign: “PEAS” on the left and “ASPARAGUS” on the right. These simple words may bring to mind a vibrant green color, but Ruscha instead renders the scene in black and white with the cinematic haze of an old-time film. Such is characteristic of Ruscha’s series of silhouette paintings from the 80s and 90s to which the present lot belongs, characterized by their resemblance to grainy film stills.

    In this silhouette painting and many others, Ruscha relied on reverse stenciling and airbrushing to pop text off of the canvas. This technique recalls the same process utilized to create commercial billboards, the resulting effect depriving the image of any sort of painterly brushstroke. Peas, Asparagus thus has distinct pop connotations, illustrating Ruscha’s same reliance on the consumer-driven world for subject matter, employed by his contemporaries like Andy Warhol and Barbara Kruger. Yet the use of the airbrush and unidentifiable American backdrop adds an element of enigmatic nostalgia that stands uniquely amongst Warhol and Kruger’s image-driven compositions from the same period. Peas, Asparagus does not feel at all like an advertisement, but rather evokes a longing for a forgotten past. Such settings resemble the lonely vistas painted by Edward Hopper from over half a century earlier, distinctly American and universally human. In Early Sunday Morning painted in 1930, an equally wide, abandoned landscape—this time of quiet storefronts on a sunny street—seems eerily familiar with the same lack of specificity. Sixty years later, Ruscha’s silhouette paintings of automobiles, long winding roads, and empty fields all seem to belong to the settings Ruscha may have passed on one of his long West coast road trips.

    Of this simultaneous anonymity and familiarity, Ruscha explains, “a lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way, they’re words in front of an old Paramount Studios mountain. You don’t have to have a mountain back there - you could have a landscape, a farm. I have a background, foreground. It’s so simple. And the backgrounds are of no particular character. They’re just meant to support the drama, like the Hollywood sign being held up by sticks” (Ed Ruscha quoted in R.D. Marshall, Ed Ruscha, London 2003, p. 239). This time, it is signs for peas and asparagus held up by sticks, dramatically rooted in a hazy and nameless black and white field. While there is no indication of exactly where this image comes from, in its nostalgic rendering, the painting feels undeniably familiar.

  • 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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Peas, Asparagus

signed and dated "Ed Ruscha 1991" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
41 7/8 x 84 1/8 in. (106.4 x 213.7 cm.)
Painted in 1991.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST