my evening with Ed

I took a break from "dead week" (as we undergrads at Cal described this "week" between classes and finals, or, as the case may be, review boards and final papers) yesterday to spend "an evening with Ed Ruscha," part of the MFA's Carl Shapiro famous people lecture series, or something like that. I can't remember when I first learned about Ed and his work - probably as an undergrad, and that introduction was likely reinforced when I worked at the Achenbach Foundation in San Francisco's Legion of Honor, which houses his archive. Anyway, I'm a big fan and jumped on the chance to hear him talk about his work when student affairs offered up a handful of free tickets last semester.

The lecture was great...more about that in a bit. But the evening itself and the crowd it attracted were really odd. I got there early, so waited in line outside the auditorium for a bit. A couple of older folks got in line behind me and asked me who we were seeing tonight (I guess most people just buy tickets to the entire series and don't pay too much attention to individual artists), and when I told them, proceeded to essentially quiz me on who he was and what he's been up to all these years. I overheard the same kinds of questions and conversations all around me as I waited inside for the lecture to begin (I also overheard a woman behind me explaining to her friend that she'd recently quit teaching - I assume an art/design/craft class of some sort - because teaching is, really, "giving it all away"). The woman who eventually sat down next to me had the same questions initially, which, mysteriously to me even now, after some reflection, somehow led into this intensely personal conversation about my work and subject matter and childhood...Good grief, woman, it takes me years to have this kind of "life story" conversation with someone. I felt a little violated.

But the lecture itself was really enjoyable. Ed Ruscha lives in L.A. but was born in Nebraska and still has a bit of a midwestern accent, which, like my stereotype or not, adds to his overall very down-to-earth and personable presentation. In addition to his own work, he showed slides of things that had inspired him over the years, from old automobile gear shifts, to the design of an ink bottle, to Hudson River paintings. I was familiar with a lot of the work that he showed, but new to me were his recent "answers" (shown last year at the Venice Biennale and titled, collectively, "Course of Empire") to an older series of "Blue Collar" paintings. Very similar to his "then and now" photos of Sunset Boulevard in L.A. - he repainted the buildings or sites he'd painted years before, so that the older "Blue Collar Telephone Booth" painting, for example, was now something like "the site of where a telephone booth had been," just sky with a lamppost on one side and a tree trunk on the other. Good stuff.

I was back in the studio today and will - hopefully - finish my art history paper by Saturday. In a strange turn of events, I am no longer writing about Sophie Calle but I am still writing about Baudrillard...sort of. Really, I'm writing about Disneyland, one of Baudrillard's examples of "simulation" in his conveniently pocket-sized book of the same name, published in '84. It's not really a research paper, but I am citing some other sources, mostly from the catalogue that accompanied an exhibition about the design of Disney theme parks that the Canadian Center for Architecture sponsored a few years ago. The last article in the catalogue, in particular, is rather brilliant, in which Greil Marcus takes a refreshing look at 40 years of Disneyism and Disney criticism, most of it fairly predictable. Let's just say, as an art student in art school, I'm used to knee jerk reactions to things like Disneyland. Basically, you've gotta leave your irony in the parking lot, you know what I mean? And who needs "reality," anyway?


Jess Hutch said...

Wow, Ed Ruscha, how cool that you got to attend his presentation. And of course I'm loving the Disneyland scholarship you're doing right now - I want to read your paper! I'm going there in a few weeks, you know, for research purposes.

Becky G. said...

Yeah, Ed's the bomb. Talk about blurring the lines between various forms of culture, and what I love most is that he's so obviously passionate about art and design and America and traveling...I really dig him. And I'm so envious that you're going to Disneyland...take me with you!