Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Art with Text
Los Angeles Modern Auctions adopts a curated approach to every sale and there are a number of interesting themes in our March auction. One such group are works that employ text, by artists like Ed Ruscha, Jenny Holzer, Tracey Emin, Mary Kelly, and Raymond Pettibon. Whether it’s to communicate a message to the viewer, or to explore the aesthetic properties of language, these six works reveal the myriad ways in which the written word can be employed in visual art.
Artist Ed Ruscha is famed for the deadpan use of language in his paintings, prints, and artist books. His early pieces from the 1960s comprised one word works, inspired by comic strips and pop culture. These developed into longer strings of text over the course of the following decade, when this lithograph, There’s No Job Too Small (1975), was produced. Ruscha’s focus is on the visual quality of the letters, rather than on communicating a particular message. Here, the text dominates the picture plane, making an otherwise common phrase appear unfamiliar. His phrases are sometimes found readymade and are drawn from a myriad of sources including newspapers and dreams. The artist says, “Sometimes found words are the most pure because they have nothing to do with you…I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.”
Employing a similar colorway but a dramatically different medium is Jenny Holzer’s There is a period when it is clear… (1980-1982). Holzer’s lettering is engraved onto the face of a white granite bench using the United States Department of War typeface, which was designed in the 1930s for the Veterans’ Administration headstones and markers. The text warns of a future in which things may go awry without corrective action, thus challenging the viewer to examine their own position in critical terms. While content remains paramount for Holzer, the importance of her message is underscored by the sculpture’s weighty materials and the font’s official origins, with its associations of gravitas and permanence. A member of the so-called Pictures Generation, along with artists like Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, Holzer is renowned for appropriating and subverting the imagery and language of mass media as a means of examining its assumptions.
In a similar vein, Mary Kelly’s Mea Culpa (Study for Beirut) (1999-2002) presents a weighty text, imploring us to consider the trauma of war. Kelly taught in Beirut during its so-called “golden age” and has been an important figure in the feminist art movement in Los Angeles since the 1960s: world renowned for her incisive installations and sculptures. In this instance, Kelly employs a rather lighter medium to carry her words than Holzer does – a mesh of compressed lint. She describes her use of text as a way of conveying narrative through materials and site.
Handwritten texts appear in two works from 1990 by artist Raymond Pettibon, Untitled (No! Not Us!) and Untitled (The Creatures of Flesh…). Pettibon is celebrated for his anti-establishment comic-style drawings. Ranging from the philosophical to the whimsical, the texts in his work touch on religion, sexuality, literature, and politics.
In the deeply personal work of famed British artist Tracey Emin, the artist’s own subjectivity is continually probed through texts, which she embroiders and scribes on textiles, sculptures, paintings and drawings. For International Woman (2004), the artist has decorated a bag with her typically plaintive phrases, which use second person speech to speak directly to the viewer.
Untitled (No! Not Us!)
Ink on paper
Signed and dated verso
Composition: 12″x 9″; Sheet: 13.75″ x 11″; Frame: 16.25″ x 13″
Untitled (The Creatures of Flesh…)
Ink on Paper
Signed and dated verso
Composition: 11″ x 9″; Sheet: 13.5″ x 11″; Frame: 16.25″ x 13″
The Living Series: There is a period when it is clear…
Bethel white granite bench
From the edition of 3 and 1 artist’s proof
17″ x 36″ x 18″
Together with copy of original invoice from Stuart Regen Gallery dated April 18, 1990
Provenance: Stuart Regen Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 1990)
Literature: Jenny Holzer: Retro. C. Levine. 2011. 11-17 for similar examples illustrated.
Mea Culpa (Study for Beirut)
Signed and dated “Mary Kelly 2002″ in black felt-tip marker verso
Compressed lint: 7.5″ x 23.25″; Board: 24″ x 30.25″; Frame: 25.25″ x 31.25”
Provenance: Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
There’s No Job Too Small
3- color lithograph on white Arches paper
#3 of 7 impressions aside from the edition of 20
Published and printed by Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque
Signed and dated with edition in graphite verso
Image/sheet: 30″ x 22″; Frame: 31.5″ x 24.5″
Literature: Edward Ruscha: Editions, 1959-1999: Catalogue Raisonné. 1st ed. Vol. II. S. Engberg and C. Philpot. 1999. #90.
Suitcase of cotton canvas, leather trimmings, and patchwork
Model no. Le Pliage Valise, from the edition of 200
Signed and inscribed “Bangkok/Longchamp/Tracey Emin” with hand-drawn logo on affixed rosette ribbon; branded “Les Pliages Longchamp ‘Valise’/modèle déposé – made in France” to leather trimming
14.5″ x 19″ x 7″(as illustrated)