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Ed Ruscha (b. 1937)
The Uncertain Trail
signed and dated 'Ed Ruscha 1986' (on the reverse), dated again and titled '1986 The Uncertain Trail' (on the stretcher)
acrylic on canvas
47 x 120 in. (119.4 x 305 cm.)
Painted in 1986.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1987 Biennial Exhibition, April-July 1987, p. 113 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée National d'art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Fundaciò Caixa de Pensions; London, Serpentine Gallery, and Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Ed Ruscha, December 1989-February 1991, pp. 70-71, no. 26 (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C.; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Miami Art Museum; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Oxford, Museum of Modern Art, and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Ed Ruscha, June 2000-April 2002, pp. 104-105 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Edward Ruscha catalogue raisonné.

Since the early 1960s Ed Ruscha has captured the spirit of the West in his words, phrases and imagery. The Uncertain Trail, 1986 is in many ways a painting made in the esteemed tradition of 19th century landscape painting. But The Uncertain Trail also has an eye to Hollywood's venerated movie genre, the Western. Like an old black and white film, it is cinematic in its camera-angle perspective, and the large canvas itself is like a movie screen. Text over imagery is integral to all films as we are reminded when the credits roll. In this case, Ruscha has substituted a censor strip for the expected text, implying the title--or something else--we fill in the blank. Here Ruscha prefers the ambiguous blank as a sign to stand in for the more explicit words.

"In many of the works from the 1980s, Ruscha has chosen to leave words out altogether, replacing them by silhouetted images that are themselves enigmatic enough to force the issue of language into the open and by floating white rectangles or underliners whose references are often supplied by the painting's title. Here Ruscha is playing somewhat with both our familiarity with his work, and with the self-described parameters of this art up to this point, by creating the expectation of language and then purposefully not supplying it" (D. Cameron, Ed Ruscha Paintings, 1990, p. 15).

Albert Bierstadt, The Oregon Trail, 1869 Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH

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