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COLONY OF ERRORS

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836, oil on canvas, 39 1⁄4 × 63 1⁄2".

IN 2006, a year after Ed Ruscha’s series “Course of Empire” debuted at the Fifty-First Venice Biennale, Noam Chomsky called America a failed state. Ruscha tends toward wry jokes over declamation, but his own assessment was similarly damning. In the US pavilion, his series “Blue Collar,”1992, comprising five black-and-white paintings of Los Angeles buildings connected to working-class life (e.g., a trade school), was shown with five new works in color depicting the progress or deterioration of each site. These deadpan before-and-after records of changes in the urban landscape registered the domestic crises of endless imperial war. Together, the ten paintings suggested a kind of social realism stripped of sentiment and reduced to pure indexicality; but, in a twist on the artist’s earlier works rendering photos of architecture as Pop-art paintings, each place here was a fiction. The

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