Ed Ruscha (B. 1937)
Property from a Distinguished West Coast Collection
Ed Ruscha (B. 1937)

Real Estate

Ed Ruscha (B. 1937)
Real Estate
signed and dated 'Ed Ruscha 1982' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
62 x 90 in. (157.5 x 228.6 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Fuller-Goldeen Gallery, San Francisco
Barbara and Armin Sadoff, Beverly Hills
Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Dean and E. Wright, eds., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Two: 1971-1982, New York, 2005, pp. 414-415, no. P1982.18 (illustrated in color).
San Francisco, Fuller-Goldeen Gallery, Perspectives of Landscape, July-August 1983.

Lot Essay

Ed Ruscha's 1982 picture Real Estate is a deliberate paradox which, in both its content and its composition, playfully explores and dismantles many of the supposed givens of painting. Over a color-saturated image of sunset that comprises horizontal streaks of rich color hover the words "REAL ESTATE," rendered in a mock Oriental typescript that recalls outmoded restaurant signage or jokey comic strips. The word "REAL" is presented on a large scale, made all the more impressive by the expanse of the canvas itself, as though it were some Magrittean declaration questioning the "reality" of the image. This potential intellectual discourse appears to be wittily punctured by the word "ESTATE," which appears as a pendant apostrophe underneath. These words root the painting in the realm of property, a concept that serves to puncture the romance of the sunset-drenched landscape over which the title has been emblazoned.

Ruscha's word paintings often feature a deliberate disconnect between the "written" and the painted content, as is the case in Real Estate. This reveals the origins of his aesthetic in the world of collage. The words and the image that forms the background appear to be from different sources, different realms. It is through these juxtapositions that Ruscha's paintings achieve a surrealistic poetry which is grounded in the aesthetic of the billboards of the urban and desert landscapes that he has come to know so well. His words and his compositions adapt the visual language of advertizing, yet subvert it for his own purposes.

Ruscha chooses his words carefully. While he has explained that they sometimes come "from memory, sometimes from dreams, sometimes from listening to the radio," he has gone on to say that, "it's always been very intuitive and personal for me, and it's not about entertaining people. I've never sat down with a pad and pencil and thought, 'What can I do today?' The words that I use, their combinations, the phrases--they're all things that somehow personally affect me, that I find amusing, or ironic, or something" (E. Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages, A. Schwartz (ed.), Cambridge and London, 2002, p. 286). That is clearly the case in Real Estate, where the tension between the dramatic, absorbing landscape and the humorously rendered words result in a rich sense of irony.

In this picture, the words may have been suggested by Ruscha's 1970 book, Real Estate Opportunities, a deadpan collection of photographs of often dilapidated sites in California. At the same time, real estate was in the news during 1982, in part because of the brief recession that hit the United States. Perhaps notions of property were also suggested by events such as the First Lebanon War and the Falklands War, each involving territorial disputes to various extents. In this picture, Ruscha seems to balance some of the grittier associations with the real estate market against the alluring colors and romantic associations of the sunset, creating an intriguing and entertaining tension.

While Ruscha's word paintings had derived in part from his investigations of collage as a young artist, he also fleetingly had explored Abstract Expressionism, which had been de rigueur in American art colleges at the time. Intriguingly, in the pictures that have perspectival backgrounds such as Real Estate, Ruscha appears to have reintroduced some of the dialogues that surrounded Abstract Expressionism: the landscape here, with its horizontal bands of red, yellow, and blue, itself appears reminiscent of the horizontal clouds of colour of Mark Rothko's paintings. A rich colorism informs this picture that appears rooted in that early flirtation with the movement: "Looking back, I can see that Abstract Expressionism is vital painting...it's real...and I still love it, so I don't find it foreign to me. But it's only a step towards my direction.[...] So, it became a question of either loading the brush with colour and attacking a canvas that was pure white, or something else...something preconceived. I took the second way. My paintings were almost dreamed about in advance, rather than painted on the spot... I began to plan my work" (E. Ruscha, quoted in B. Blistène, "Conversation with Ed Ruscha," in Edward Ruscha: Paintings Schilderijen, exh. cat., Rotterdam, 1990, p. 128).

In Real Estate, while Ruscha may have co-opted the appearance of Rothko's paintings, he nevertheless, also has negated it. Through both the deep perspective implied by the distant horizon, which recalls the Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, and by the sheer orderliness of the composition, the evidence of a clearly "planned" decision is clear-a far cry from the work of the Action Painters who had still been so dominant during Ruscha's student days. In a further twist to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, Ruscha both continues and subverts Clement Greenberg's theories regarding the flatness of the picture plane by superimposing the writing on the sunset of Real Estate. Ruscha has created an emphatically figurative and legible picture that functions on two levels: that of the image and that of the words. In this way, he seduces the viewer into reading the image while provocatively disrupting the disbelief that he himself has asked us to suspend. In this way, Real Estate reveals the constant, deliberately irresolvable push and pull that informs his work, echoing the process by which the deliberately prosaic selection of text wryly deflates the romantic mood of the sunset.

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