Critics’ Picks

Ed Ruscha, Metro Mattress #4, 2015, acrylic and pencil on museum board paper, 40 x 60".

Ed Ruscha, Metro Mattress #4, 2015, acrylic and pencil on museum board paper, 40 x 60".


Ed Ruscha

Sprüth Magers | Berlin
Oranienburger Straße 18
November 3, 2015–January 16, 2016

You would be forgiven for not realizing you had just walked into an Ed Ruscha exhibition: His latest series, “Metro Mattresses,” 2015, looks completely different from his previous work. But does it really represent a complete break? The perennial on-the-road artist, Ruscha noticed discarded mattresses littering the sidewalks while driving around Los Angeles. He began photographing them, amassing quite a collection, and then re-created the images using acrylic paints and colored pencils on museum boards.

Ruscha’s draftsmanship is photorealist precise and the images are sublime—always mysterious, loaded with potential narrative. Metro Mattress #4 shows two mattresses stacked on top of each other. The bluish one, its plush, torn innards escaping from beneath, supports a yellowish one with discernible bloodstains. The crumpled folds and standing position of Metro Mattress #9 suggest it had been left sagging against a wall. All these portraits float against blank backgrounds though, mere disjecta membra surfacing in chalk-white isolation. What other living artist combines blatancy with irony and pulls it off in such a convincing way?

Chez Ruscha, there has always been a dark fascination with the notion of California as the Occident’s westernmost point. Could this series be a commentary on the out-of-control homeless situation in Los Angeles? Or are these veritable discards, awaiting the purgatorial rot of the landfill, further symptoms of an America forever moving on, always ready to jettison our tools for dreaming in pursuit of the next big elsewhere? As usual, the artist doesn’t give away much, but what he does offers much to contemplate.