ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
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ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
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The Collection of Jerry Moss
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)

Chairman

Details
ED RUSCHA (B. 1937)
Chairman
signed and dated 'Edward Ruscha 1977' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1977.
Provenance
Gil Friesen, Los Angeles, acquired directly from the artist
Gift of the above to the late owner
Literature
R. Dean and E. Wright, Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Two: 1971-1982, New York, 2005, pp. 214-215, no. P1977.03 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

"Generally the text is the main character, it’s like a bouquet of flowers the painting is offering, and then there’s some kind of backdrop and that’s often something generically plain, like a landscape or a mountaintop or something that might suggest music or drama—a background of drama for this main subject. I’m not consciously trying to reduce everything to two subjects, background and foreground, but often that’s what happens. Once these words are painted, they might as well be carved in marble: They’re official" (E. Ruscha, quoted in B. Schwabsky, "1000 Words: Ed Ruscha", Artforum, May 2008, p. 358).

With Ed Ruscha's classic California-cool aesthetic and elegantly executed sfumato, Chairman stands out as an astonishing example of the artist's visually and conceptually rich word paintings of the 1970s. Marked with exquisite details, the present work exemplifies his intimate and precise process which has made an indelible impact on painting and conceptualism. Recalling the atmospheric billows of clouds in the horizon seen in the work of J. M. W. Turner, as well as Ruscha’s own series of buildings on fire, Chairman sets art history ablaze like the sun over the Hollywood Hills.

Given as a gift to the late music executive Jerry Moss, the co-founder of the influential A&M Records, Chairman is both universal and a record of a specific moment in time. It is, to quote Ruscha, an official work of art meant to mark professional achievement. He also photographed the exterior of the original offices of A&M Records, and the image is a part of his Streets of Los Angeles archive at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. This provenance cements Ruscha’s influence on the history of the city, not just the fine art scene. In this way, he is a truly interdisciplinary artist who reminds us of important intersections between art and music, from Wassily Kandinsky’s improvisation paintings to Roy DeCarava’s photographs of jazz icons like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong.

Ruscha has often engaged with music. In 1975, his word painting appeared on the cover of and lent its name to the Talking Heads album Popular Favorites 1976–1992: Sand in the Vaseline. It has also been a theme in other paintings such as Radio (1964, The Menil Collection, Houston), and such word paintings Thick Blocks of Musical Fudge (1976), which was painted the year before the present example, as well as Music (1969), The Music from the Balconies (1984), and Note (2018). Most recently, in 2022, Ruscha collaborated with Interscope and Gucci to create a special edition of 2Pac’s album All Eyez on Me (1996). Ruscha explains his relationship to music, “I guess I have fairly sentimental taste in music, and the stuff I like tends to evoke a rather romantic notion of the America of the past…We were going at a slightly slower R.P.M. then and I like that. However, I don’t see this music as nostalgic. It’s as relevant to life today as it was the day it was recorded” (E. Ruscha, quoted in K. McKenna, “The Sentimental Musical Tastes of Ed Ruscha,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1988).

Ruscha is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next year. This exhibition has introduced his work to new audiences, inspired by his genre-bending advancements in painting. There is always a universally appealing element to Ruscha’s work, which allows it to remain relevant over the decades. With Chairman, we are reminded of the ongoing relationship between painting and other media, as well as the ability of painting to allow color to assert its own agency. Above all, Ruscha always argues for unexpected combinations in order to unseat received notions about life and art.

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