This Summer, we welcomed a recent work by influential artist Ed Ruscha into our collection. Born in 1937, Ruscha
is an America-born conceptual artist, whose oeuvre—photographs, collages, paintings, and books—spans nearly seven decades, and reflects his personal fascination with language and American popular culture.
A self-proclaimed Luddite, Ruscha declared in a 2013 New York Times interview, “Every day I am reminded how far behind the world of technology I am. I’m not a great reader, either, but I love books, the physical objects of them.” His interest in books harks back to his early word paintings of the late 1950s, many of which alluded to Los Angeles, his adopted home. During the time he lived in L.A., Ruscha sought to capture the city’s beat, its colloquialisms, and the effects of burgeoning consumer culture on the city. Ruscha conceived the idea of an inexpensive, mass-produced artist book available to wide-reaching audiences, as opposed to glossy, costly books accessible only to the moneyed elite. In 1962 he created the first of these books, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, featuring photographs of gas stations he encountered on his travels from Los Angeles to his boyhood home, Oklahoma City. He would produce 15 additional artist books in the next decade and a half.
The use of books as artistic subject matter led to Ruscha’s creation of a series of painted images of books that highlight parts not typically represented in their depictions. Through the generous gift of Sid and Ruth Lapidus, Ruscha’s Fanned Book (2013) entered the N-YHS collection last month and is now on view in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library. This monumental painting reveals a book’s fanned pages, stylized edges, and elaborately marbleized decorative end papers. Viewers are not privy to its contents. Yet the vibrancy of its parts suggests the kinetic sculptural quality of the whole, reinforcing the artist’s self-proclaimed experience of encountering books as physical objects.
So don’t miss out! Come see Ruscha’s Fanned Book alongside other works of art and artifacts that capture the history—recent and old—of New York City and beyond.