Just In! An Iconic ‘Standard’ by Ed Ruscha

November 8, 2017

In 1963 Ed Ruscha published Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a book comprised of black-and-white snapshots of filling stations the artist had captured on a road trip through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Shortly thereafter, Ruscha began to create his now iconic Standard works, depicting the eponymous filling station in the artist’s particular take on the Pop idiom. It combines the visual language of mass media and commercial design with deadpan irony and a cinematic sensibility. “’Hollywood’ is like a verb to me,” Ruscha once remarked. “It’s something you can do to any subject or anything.” The large, bold fonts, solitary images, and dramatic planes characteristic of the artist’s Standard works possess a deeply cinematic quality, and also achieve the same impact as blunt commercial messaging.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Ed Ruscha, Cheese Mold Standard with Olive, 1969
Winter 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Ruscha produced his first Standard Station screenprint in 1966. It was followed in 1969 by variations on the same theme, such as Cheese Mold Standard with Olive (1969) which will be offered in our Winter 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction. This work presents a similar scene of an anonymous filling station rendered in an unlikely palette and presented in dramatic perspective. As in other works in this series. Cheese Mold Standard with Olive recasts a highly visible, if often unregarded, cookie cutter component of the American landscape, stripping it of specificity and rendering it in hues of striking blues and greens. In contrast to other works in this series, however, Ruscha includes in the upper right hand corner of this particular image a solitary, enigmatic cocktail olive, which is offered with no further elucidation.

Twentysix Gasoline Stations included one particular photograph entitled Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas that would serve as a source of inspiration for some of the artist’s iconic Standard works. “The photograph was the model for other depictions, with its baseline perspective and its diagonal screaming overhead,” Ruscha once explained in an interview. “It followed an idea I had about cinematic reality … It seemed like all movies would have a train in them. Invariably, they had the camera down on the tracks and shot this train so it appeared as though it was coming from nowhere, from a little point in the distance, to suddenly zooming in and filling your total range of vision. In a sense, that’s what the Standard gas station is doing. It’s super drama.”

The dramatic tenor achieved in Ruscha’s Standard series is astonishing, given that the scenes they present are both entirely devoid of human presence and incredibly anonymous, with signs stripped of messaging, and specificity of place only vaguely suggested. “So I would look at a building and disregard the purpose of that building (in this case, a commercial outlet to sell gasoline),” the artist once recounted. “I was really more interested in this crazy little design that was repeated by all the gas companies to make stations with an overhang to create shade for their customers. It seemed to me a very beautiful statement.” The beauty that Ruscha saw in the these anonymous buildings clearly shines through in this iteration of his iconic subject.

Lot Information:

Ed Ruscha
Cheese Mold Standard with Olive
13-color screenprint on wove paper
Published by the artist; printed by Jean Milant and Daniel Socha, Hollywood
#109 of 150
Image: 19.5″ x 36.75″; Sheet: 25.75″ x 40.125″; Frame: 29.875″ x 46.75″
Signed and dated with edition in graphite lower left margin of sheet beneath image; retains Brooke Alexander Gallery label frame verso
Literature: Edward Ruscha: Editions, 1959-1999. Catalogue Raisonné. 1st ed. Vol. II. S. Engberg and C. Phillpot. 1999. #31.
Estimate: $50,000-$70,000
Winter 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Quoted in Sylvia Wolf, Ed Ruscha and Photography, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2004, pp.264–5.

Leave a Reply