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  • Provenance

    Ace Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Seattle, Richard Hines Gallery, Opening Exhibition, 1978
    San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I Don't Want No Retrospective: The Works of Edward Ruscha, 25 March-23 May 1982, then traveled to New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (8 July-5 September 1982), Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery (4 October-28 November 1982), San Antonio, San Antonio Museum of Art (27 December 1982-20 February 1983), Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (17 March-17 April 1983)
    Mexico City, Museo Tamayo, Edward Ruscha: La Mirada Distanciada (The Long View), 16 March-16 July 2006

  • Literature

    S. McRae, "Welcome to Ruscha's L.A.", Vancouver Sun, August 4 1978.
    J. Kutner, "Ruscha: Shapes and Shadows of L.A.," Dallas Morning News, 1982, p. 17 (illustrated)
    R. Dean and E. Wright, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Two: 1971-1982, New York: Gagosian Gallery / Steidl, 2005, p. 239 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    She Slept With Two Wind-Up Alarm Clocks sees Ed Ruscha at his most expansively inscrutable. Miniscule text hovers in a vast and featureless L.A. nightscape, a widescreen red sky that offers no clue to the words’ significance; both eerie and quietly comic, it is a compelling example of the mastery of text and image that have made Ruscha one of the most important artists of the last half-century.

    Although he frequently disavows any deep association with the city, Ruscha’s art is undeniably informed by the aesthetic and cultural sensibilities of Los Angeles. The present lot distils key aspects of this setting to piquant expression. The long, thin composition and apocalyptic sunset-streetlight colours are reminiscent of his silhouetted landscapes featuring the Hollywood sign (and ‘Halloween’ variations thereof); as a material feature of the LA skyline, these 45-foot letters emblematise both the film industry and the proliferation of signs in Los Angeles – billboards, gas stations, shopfronts, bumper stickers – that are all part of its temperament, all designedto be visible when driving down its endless sunbaked freeways. L.A. is a city of roads and signs. Here, floating free of any framework, words oscillate between object and symbol. As Peter Schjeldahl explains, ‘You can’t look at a word and read it at the same time, any more than you can simultaneously kneel and jump. You may think you can, because the toggle between the two mental operations is so fast. Graphic advertisers play that switch back and forth. Ruscha learned to freeze it in mid-throw, causing a helpless, not unpleasant buzz at the controls of consciousness.’ (Peter Schjeldahl, ‘Seeing and Reading: Ed Ruscha at the Whitney,’ New Yorker, 26 July 2004).

    This kinetic thrill of attempting to ‘read’ Ruscha is inflected by the disconcertingly long, narrow profile of the canvas, common to many works from the late 1970s. The artist has called this ‘just a natural progression of extensions of syntax … It’s the idea of things running horizontally and trying to take off. It’s almost like an airstrip in a way.’ (Ed Ruscha in conversation with Paul Karstrom, Alexandra Schwartz (ed.), Leave Any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004, p.161). Further, the horizontal axis of the act of reading echoes the asyndetic stretch of driving down freeway and boulevard: the painting’s shape lends it an evocative mileage that captures the panoramic nature of L.A. existence. This is an idea that found early expression in Ruscha’s 1966 photobook Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Its painstaking documentary subject is self-explanatory; the published product contains a single accordion-folded sheet that opens out to a length of 27 feet, the continuous assembled photograph itself less than two inches high.

    The painting’s words themselves carry a hint of nocturnal menace, only heightened by their darkly brooding backdrop. Taking his texts from a huge variety of sources, Ruscha captures an almost synesthetic fascination for the qualities of language. ‘Words have temperatures to me. When they reach a certain point and become hot words, then they appeal to me. “Synthetic” is a very hot word. Sometimes I have a dream that if a word gets too hot and too appealing, it will boil apart, and I won’t be able to read or think of it. Usually I catch them before they get too hot.’ (Ed Ruscha in Howardena Pindell, ‘Words with Ruscha,’ Print Collector’s Newsletter 3:6, Jan-Feb 1973, p.125). Here, disintegration impends among mystery: ‘she slept;’ has she woken up? Why does she have two alarm clocks? Who is she?

    If we look to the red sky for elucidation, however, we may be led astray; Ruscha gives precedence to the oblique semiotic action of the words alone. ‘A lot of my paintings are anonymous backdrops for the drama of words. In a way they’re words in front of the old Paramount mountain. You don’t have to have the mountain back there – you could have a landscape, a farm. I have 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 in conversation with Bill Berkson, Shift, 2:4, 1988, p.16). This conjunction of text and drama stands as neat metonym for Ruscha’s practice at large, but the background’s links to landscape and cinematic title-screen nonetheless conjure an importantly West Coast perspective. The diminutive text looms ready to advance and engulf in Panavision clarity; we squint for meaning as at an optician’s chart, and feel the graphic zoom of billboard lettering approaching roadside in a haze of Pacific Rim sunlight.

  • 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.

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She Slept With Two Windup Alarm Clocks

acrylic on canvas
40.6 x 152.4 cm (16 x 60 in.)
Titled 'SHE SLEPT WITH TWO WINDUP ALARM CLOCKS' lower centre. Signed and dated '1978 Edward Ruscha' on the reverse.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £362,500

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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm