Pulling into LACMA: an Ed Ruscha retrospective depicting the graphic charm of midcentury America

From everyday architecture to street signs

The magic of Ed Ruscha’s work is its accessibility. A would-be graphic designer who elevated street signs and banal architecture to collectable art, he presented modern 20th-century America as a visual feast – a mesmerising celebration of colour, texture and shape.

Ed Ruscha / Now Then, an exhaustive survey of the artist’s 65 years in the business, launched last autumn at MoMA in New York, but Los Angeles, his home base since the 1950s, is where it belongs.

Opening 7 April 2024 at LACMA, on Wilshire Boulevard, the exhibition highlights Ruscha’s talent for coaxing the exquisite from whatever lay in his path. Often, the message is in the subject matter, like a service station in Amarillo, Texas, given a monumental physicality with the artist’s singular perspective. Occasionally, the medium itself does the talking. Highlights of Now Then include tobacco paintings conceived during an oil-on-canvas fatigue and a suite of paperworks on which Ruscha made unsightly stains with various substances.

At LACMA, he recreates in situ his Chocolate Room, possibly the pinnacle of his experimental work. Unlike his two-dimensional paintings and photographs, it takes the form of paper shingles, each individually screen-printed with a solution of pure dark chocolate and pinned up in overlapping patterns around a small, windowless space.

Visitors will discover much familiarity in these rooms – not to mention the sweet smell of Belgian chocolate. Yet they’ll also experience a depth of colour, texture and thought that is altogether new and exciting.

Ed Ruscha / Now and Then runs at LACMA through 6 October 2024

Edward Ruscha. Back of Hollywood. 1977
Edward Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965–68. Image courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Edward Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965–68. Image courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Read next: Detroit’s East Village reinvention barrels ahead with a new arts centre, launching in May

Kimsooja’s mirrored installation offers a new perspective on the Bourse de Commerce



Share Tweet