Ed Ruscha’s nostalgic ode to Oklahoma

Ed Ruscha’s nostalgic ode to Oklahoma

‘Ed Ruscha: OKLA’, the pioneering American artist’s first solo exhibition in his home state, explores the impact of Oklahoma on his storied career

One might associate Ed Ruscha with sun-drenched cityscapes of Los Angeles, a filtered California cool rendered in his unmistakable linear pop and instructive, provocative text-based works. But Ed Ruscha is not from Los Angeles, he’s from Oklahoma, a city which, as a new exhibition at Oklahoma Contemporary proves, left a lasting impact on his career. 

‘The mythos of Ed Ruscha is tied to Americana and the open road, both of which are rooted in his childhood here,’ says Oklahoma Contemporary artistic director Jeremiah Matthew Davis. It was 1956 when Ruscha took his first road trip, aged 18, from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, to forge a career as an artist. 

Four years in the making, ‘Ed Ruscha: OKLA’ marks the artist’s first solo show in his childhood state and looks back on its influence on his 60-year career.

Ed Ruscha, OK (State I), 1990 at Oklahoma Contemporary 2021
OK (State I), 1990. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Jane & Marc Nathanson Family Foundation © Ed Ruscha Photo: Trayson Conner

The show is an ode to Oklahoma. It references the city’s geography, vernacular and industry, gazing through the lens of midwestern midcentury American culture through more than 70 works, paintings and a large-scale installation to drawings, prints, books, photos and film. Visitors can expect to encounter iconic pieces such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations and Chocolate Room alongside more recent works such as two Drum Skins paintings. 

The show is structured around five core themes: Oklahoma OK explores the multitude of references to the city directly in Ruscha’s work. Made in U.S.A. surveys the artist’s perspective as an American and his frequent depictions of the decline of American manufacturing industries, to more potent political statements. 51% Angel, 49% Devil explores the artist’s Catholic upbringing and Pop Origins traces Ruscha’s myriad references to the popular culture motifs of his 1940’s childhood, including movies, comics and advertising. Finally, US 66 delves into the expansive vistas and mythology of the route west, a path well-trodden by the artist as he repeatedly returned to his roots in Oklahoma City. §

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