At Alden Projects, Mason Williams Partners Ed Ruscha

THE DAILY PIC: A few of Ruscha's greatest works had help from Williams.


THE DAILY PIC (#1394): This tiny study for a very famous print is from one of the best of the crop of new shows on the Lower East Side of New York. The gallery hosting it is the new Alden Projects, and the show is called “Double Standard: Ed Ruscha & Mason Williams 1956 – 1971”. That title should give a clue about today’s Pic: It is actually by Williams, done in preparation for one of several collaborations between the great Ruscha and his lesser-known, but deeply important, creative partner.

Other collaborations between them include the great Royal Road Test typewriter-throw – with Williams, in fact, as the thrower and Ruscha piloting the car the machine was thrown from.

It’s not that Williams’s role isn’t noted in the historical record, or that Ruscha has ever denied it. It’s just that, in our enduring love of the single artistic hero and genius, we still can’t quite deal with joint authorship. (Which is weird for a capitalist society committed to the idea of corporate authors – but then fine art may partly be meant to distract us from our culture’s corporatism, like a magician’s misdirection.)

No need to pity Williams, however. He has never been a cultural underdog. He wrote comedy for Saturday Night Live and the Smothers Brothers show, which was once central to American television culture. He also created the giant 1968 radio hit Classical Gas, which I remember hearing everywhere and all the time in my childhood. He has Grammys and an Emmy and a couple of records that went gold.

As the Alden show proves, he was also, on occasion, a dab hand at art,  beyond what he made with Ruscha. His attempt (below) to skywrite a giant drawing of a sunflower, with the actual sun as its blossom, is a lovely marriage of earth art and conceptualism. (And long predates Vik Muniz’s wonderful collaborations with skywriting planes.)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit

Williams_Sunflower_with sun

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