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"Landmark Pictures: Ed Ruscha and Andreas Gursky "
2000-01-08 until 2000-04-23
HARVARD UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUMS
Cambridge, MA, USA United States of America

The Harvard University Art Museums is presenting an exhibition exploring the work of artists Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937) and Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955). Landmark Pictures: Ed Ruscha and Andreas Gursky opened January 8 and will remain on view though April 23, 2000. The exhibition will be presented in two parts, the first (January 8 – March 19) at the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the second (mid March – late April) in the Sert Gallery, inaugurating the newly renovated space in the Corbusier-designed Carpenter Center for Visual and Performing Arts, adjacent to the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger Museums.

The Art Museums have actively collected the art of our times since the early twentieth century. Over the years, these holdings have grown significantly, prompting the recent creation of a curatorial department of modern and contemporary art. The Sert Gallery will be dedicated to contemporary art, and along with other programming at the Art Museums, will allow us to expand our initiatives in this area, said James Cuno, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, Harvard University Art Museums. Landmark Pictures also marks the beginning of collaborations between the Art Museums and Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department, which builds upon our growing role with the University for fostering collaborations between schools and departments.

Landmark Pictures: Ed Ruscha and Andreas Gursky encompasses more than forty objects, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and books. Both artists are well known for their large-scale images of recognizable sites – Ruscha for the particular L.A. and Hollywood landscape and Gursky for German and international landscapes and sites. Landmark Pictures examines how each artist has reconfigured the traditional understanding of landscape by creating highly seductive, richly associative images that evoke landmarks that are at once foreign and familiar to viewers.

Neither Ruscha nor Gursky focuses on set-up photography, instead reinforcing the experience of a particular site by applying abstract effects from painting and commercial imagery, investing the familiar, often overlooked details of places we visit daily with acute significance. Ruscha and Gursky are also linked by the degree of distance they each maintain from their subjects. By focusing the viewers’ attention deliberately on overall design elements rather than the subjects themselves, the seemingly simple imagery of their works is revealed as highly complex.

A comparison of the work of the two artists is furthered by their individual connections to the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, with whom Gursky studied and who were early proponents of Ruscha’s work. The Bechers are renowned for their pioneering photography as well as their tremendous influence as teachers at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. The Bechers’ work – comprehensive photographic records of industrial buildings such as water towers and gas tanks – countered the prevailing expressionism and angst of much postwar European art. As teachers, they were impressed by an American achievement they felt had been lost in Europe after the war: the ability to transfer everyday images to the realm of myth. They saw this in Ruscha’s work and used his books in their teaching, focusing on the irony and subjectivity that marks Ruscha’s idiosyncratic documentary sensibility. Gursky builds upon a similar sensibility in his work by elevating the everyday images that are his subjects through an exacting focus on their inherent design elements. This focus takes his subjects out of their natural context and imbues them with grander, almost epic, characteristics.

Part I of Landmark Pictures: Ed Ruscha and Andreas Gursky features Ruscha's 1963 painting, Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, as well as many of the artist’s books from the 1960s, including recent edition photographs based on his 1967 book, 34 Parking Lots in Los Angeles. His new painting Highland, Franklin, Yucca and two works from his Metro Plots series are also included. These works are installed with five photographs by Gursky, dating from 1989 to 1994. Part I also features several edition photographs by the Bechers from the Busch-Reisinger Museum's collection. Part II of the exhibition will feature a number of recent photographs by Gursky, including his dramatic panorama Los Angeles, along with several other works by Ruscha from the mid-1990's, such as pieces from his Cityscape series as well as several prints and drawings.

The ways in which photography and painting inform each other is a topic of great interest to many artists right now and Gursky is one of the most celebrated contemporary painter-photographers. Gursky’s virtuosity as a photographer masks the conceptual complexity of his pictures: his photographs are painterly precisely because everything transpires on the surface, added exhibition curator Linda Norden, Barbara Lee Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Fogg Art Museum. Ruscha, who used photography to rethink painting when painting meant Abstract Expressionism, was also among the first to recognize that surface can be as telling as depth. Looking at Gursky's works next to Ruscha's allows us to see just how much photographic and painterly have evolved over the last four decades.


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