Ed Ruscha - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Video

    Ed Ruscha, 'Street Greed', Lot 10

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Rome, Gagosian Gallery, Ed Ruscha: New Drawings, 4 June - 6 August 2005, pl. IV, p. 35 (illustrated on the cover and p. 17, installation view illustrated, p. 38)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 2005, Street Greed encapsulates Ed Ruscha's adept ability to stimulate and provoke reactions within the imagination of the viewer through his use of succinct and distilled phrases, which cut to the core of our human experience. Included in the artist’s exhibition of new work at Gagosian Gallery, Rome, in 2005, Street Greed was executed the same year that the artist was selected to represent the USA at the 51st Venice Biennale. Carefully selecting lexicon from an expansive vocabulary to craft both dynamic or subtle word groupings, Ruscha transforms typography within his painterly compositions, exploring the formal quality of phrases against the isolation of a gradated background, as exemplified in the present work. Creating compositional dynamism through the shadows thrown by the levitating white characters, Ruscha’s words stoke ideas and connotative associations, prompting the viewer to explore each letter in relation to each other, as well as reading it as a complete ambiguous phrase.

    In Street Greed, Ruscha’s iconic use of text is exemplified in the central wording which spans horizontally across the composition. To the left of the work, Ruscha depicts the word ‘Street’, immediately transporting the viewer to the urban and public spaces we experience day to day. Prompting us to recall our own memories of walking along sidewalks and pavements, Ruscha’s wording evokes thoughts of concrete and manmade materials which sculpt and shape our surrounding environments. Acting as the arteries of the cities and towns we live in, the artist’s practice has often returned to the motif of city streets, depicting the boulevards of Los Angeles and the gas stations dotted along the USA highways, in particular Route 66 which the artist would frequent when driving home to visit his family in Oklahoma. Collating twenty-six of his black and white photographs, Ruscha’s seminal work Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963, marked a turning point for the artist, who began to explore book-making as means to formalise and distribute series of images, creating unique objects which he would revisit as subject matter in further paintings, prints and works on paper. Ruscha states, ‘I began to see books and book design, typography, as a real inspiration. So I got a job with a book printer. He taught me how to set type, and then I started to see the beauty of typography and letter-forms. Somehow that led me off on this little path, almost like a bumper car, you know’ (Ed Ruscha, quoted in Martin Gayford, ‘Ed Ruscha: interview’, The Telegraph, 25 September 2009, online). The artist’s street photography depicted the exteriors of buildings and urban signage, scrupulously examining the present and cinematic quality of the city architecture, as evident in Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965, and his ambitious Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966, which mapped the whole expanse of the street in a paper strip of twenty-seven feet. Documenting moments within the ever-changing city, Ruscha sought to capture the streets surrounding him in a celluloid time capsule, preserving the iconic and vast Los Angeles cityscape which has become synonymous with urban expansion, decadence and Hollywood.

    In the present work, Ruscha toys with linguistics in the pairing of his two monosyllabic words, creating alliteration through the repetition of ‘e’, eliciting a clausal relationship between ‘Street’ and ‘Greed’. Deeply interested in language, Ruscha states, ‘Words have temperatures to me. When they reach a certain point and become hot words, then they appear to me’ (Ed Ruscha, quoted in Howardena Pindell, ‘Words with Ruscha’, Print Collector’s Newsletter, vol. 3, no. 6, January – February 1973, pp. 125-128). Removing any formal elements aside from the central text and cool palette, Ruscha invites us to consider the starkness of the word ‘greed’, paring back his presentation and any adornment associated with excess or gluttony. On viewing Jasper John’s 1955 Target with Four Faces at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Ruscha began to remove expressionist elements from his work, scrupulously and exhaustively planning his compositions to place any incidental associations or reactions in the hands of the viewer. Incorporating the cool aesthetics of popular logos or commercial brands into his canvases of the 1960s, Ruscha drew upon the visual lexicon of American advertising and billboards to transfigure household names into formal subject matter. Reconfiguring day-to-day logos onto large canvases, Ruscha affords the viewer a period of reflection on human consumption, creating a painterly space where the brand is reduced to a sleek image for examination. In the same way that other leading figures of American Pop such as James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein utilised the aesthetics of everyday consumerism, elevating and exploring its status within the realm of contemporary art, so Ruscha’s graphic compositions removed any relationship between the artist and subject matter. In the present work, Ruscha conceptually explores this notion and conflates consumption to its most undesirable extreme.

    Expertly executed in the present work, Ruscha’s phrase ‘Street Greed’ casts a shadow against the ice-blue background gradient, conveying its tangible presence and three-dimensionality within the space of the artist’s microcosm. The finely faded surface which spans from the central text outwards evokes a similar surface lustre evident in the artist’s graphite or gunpowder works, the smooth and fine blend evocative of mass-produced advertising or the spray-painted metal chassis of the automobile industry. Encapsulating the artist’s biting wit and ability to synthesise a multitude of meanings in his sharp execution, the cadence of Ruscha’s phrase is evocative of the steps walked along the city streets, where both gluttony and human achievement are visible to see.

  • 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

Ο ◆10

Street Greed

signed and dated 'Ed Ruscha 2005' lower right
acrylic on museum paper board
41 x 76.2 cm (16 1/8 x 30 in.)
Executed in 2005.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £237,500

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019