Take a Closer Look at Ed Ruscha’s Seminal ‘Rooftops’ Works, Now Featured in Artnet Auctions’s Select Photographs Sale
The suite of four photographs was the beginning of an important ongoing project for the artist, and influenced a generation of artists.
The black-and-white photograph seems to be from above, as though taken from a rooftop, and shows 1960s city streets lined with palms, bungalows, and parked cars. This is Ed Ruscha’s Rooftops (1961–2004), four gelatin silver prints, shot in 1961, looking in four directions at Los Angeles’ urban sprawl intersected by a roof line. The set of four prints is now on offer in Artnet’s Select Photographs sale until September 28.
Working in painting, drawing, prints, photography, artist’s books, film, and installation—and currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York—Ruscha’s diverse oeuvre spans six decades and has influenced a massive array of artists, architects, designers, and writers. As Ruscha explains of his cross-disciplinary practice, “I began to shoot pictures while I was in school, but not on a serious basis. I liked the idea that it could capture the here and now, an immediate reality that could then be appraised and put back into painting.”
In 1961, Ruscha graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute as a painter. After graduating, he traveled around Europe, documenting the streets of Amsterdam, Paris, and Zurich on his Yashica 2 1/4″ camera. Upon his return to the States, he began working as a layout artist for the Carson-Roberts advertising agency in West Hollywood. He took his daily lunch break on the roof of the advertising agency, which is where he captured these four images between Beverly Boulevard and North Flores Street, looking in four directions at the Los Angeles intersections.
Ruscha noted that this series was not a cohesive book idea, and it was only in 2004 that these prints were compiled as a portfolio of four photographs. This study of “seriality, deadpan aesthetics, architectural subjects, and tabletop photography,” shooting subjects from high up, would later expand into Ruscha’s aerial shots of Californian parking lots. Ruscha’s photographs, as well as all his other unique works, draw inspiration from Angeleno architecture, slang, and pop culture. Rooftops feels informed by his advertising work, with posters and signs as the main subject matter, and in this way marks the emergence of Ruscha’s quintessential aesthetic and various thematic tropes.
Many notable institutions have Ruscha’s Rooftops in their collection, including the Tate Galleries, London; National Galleries of Scotland, United Kingdom; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco; and the Menil Collection, Houston.
Ruscha’s lasting influence on photography is seen amongst other lots in our Select Photographs sale; look no further than two works by Stephen Shore: Richland Mall, US 30, Mansfield, Ohio, July 5, 1973, and Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974. As a young artist, Shore was inspired by his spontaneous and banal photographs: “Ruscha’s work may have caused irritation in some parts of the art world,” stated Shore, “but for me and my friends his books were a delight.” Shore went on to develop an oeuvre of American quotidian scenes, referencing commercialism and advertising through vividly colorful photography.
Whether it be a photograph, a painting, or a film, Ruscha’s work, while vastly interdisciplinary, is united in its documentary impulse to capture the charm and eccentricity of the post-war American landscape.
Browse works by Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore, and more in the Select Photographs sale, now live through September 28, 2023.
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