Critics’ Picks

City, 1969, two-color lithograph, 17 x 24".

Los Angeles

Ed Ruscha

Norton Simon Museum
411 West Colorado Boulevard
September 22 - January 22

During his two-month fellowship at Los Angeles’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1969, Ed Ruscha cultivated his “liquid word” images, a theme he had developed through paintings three years earlier. These images, sometimes based on arrangements he staged in the studio, present short, often monosyllabic words—like EYE and AIR—figured as splotches of liquid on flat fields of color. Fourteen of these works, on view in this exhibition, evince Ruscha’s technical knack for graphic art while marking both his attention to language and his unmistakably American sense of humor. In these textual works, Ruscha reduces language to a material substance that seems accidentally spilled into articulation. In tones of brown ink, Rodeo appears like a muddy imprint left by the bottom of a boot. For Carp with Fly, Ruscha used the same green ink and plate from a piece he created a week earlier (entitled Carp), but added a small, illusionistic fly sitting inside the curve of the robust letter c. Suggesting the passing time between the two prints, the fly—a comic detail—adds depth to the organic quality of the word as a sign while deconstructing and decomposing what it signifies (here, a fish or the action of complaining or finding fault). While works like Hollywood in the Rain and Hollywood with Observatory are not composed as liquid words, they spot language in a real location and demonstrate Ruscha’s consistent talent for drawing out expressions from American topography.