Before I can explain what “Road to Ruscha” is, I need to go back a little bit…
In 1937, Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and moved to Oklahoma City in 1941. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles in 1956 with friend and aspiring musician Mason Williams. There, Ruscha enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts). He has been credited by art critics and collectors as one of the most important living artists of the Pop art movement. TIME magazine included Ruscha in this year’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, saying, “For half a century, Ed Ruscha has been the faux-naïf funnyman of American art, posing smart riddles about what we think we know.” Have you solved the riddle of No Man’s Land?
Ruscha’s work has been exhibited at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in past exhibitions such as Art of the Sixties in 2002 and again in Out of Oklahoma: Contemporary Artists from Ruscha to Andoe in 2008. No Man’s Land and other works by Ruscha are currently on display at the museum. Since October 2012, the museum staff have been raising money to make No Man’s Land a part of the museum’s permanent collection. Learn more here about how you can help.
No Man’s Land and a photo book by Ruscha sparked an interest in Todd Stewart, Associate Professor of Photography and Associate Director of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Art & Art History. Last semester, in a meeting with the museum director, Todd pitched the idea of a road trip to Los Angeles, to where he hoped to meet Ruscha himself. The road trip would take OU students to visit old gasoline stations on the way to LA. Why would students want to visit old gas stations? Because Ed Ruscha travelled from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City in 1962. During the trip, he photographed twenty-six gas stations using his 2¼-inch-format Yashica camera in a documentary style. In 1963, he created his first photo book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, with photographs from his trip to his hometown.
Fifty years later, 20 students are traveling along I-40 and Route 66, in reverse order of Ruscha, to visit as many of the photographed gas stations as possible. The 10-day trip begins tomorrow and the group returns next Friday, May 24. The plan is to visit all of the original gas stations as well as museums, libraries, earth art sites, diners, and more, with stops in places like Amarillo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Williams, AZ; Kingman, AZ; and Needles, CA. The highlight of the trip is a studio visit with Ed Ruscha in Los Angeles next week. Following the studio visit, the group will go to the J. Paul Getty Museum to see In Focus: Ed Ruscha, which examines the artist’s photography, including Twentysix Gasoline Stations.
Along the journey, participants will engage in a variety of collaborative projects and site visits derived from Ruscha’s work and, specifically, from the original gasoline stations pictured in the book. The project will exist in both physical and virtual space with real-time collaboration between those ‘on the road’ and visitors to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. If you cannot make a trip to Norman between May 15 and 24, follow the students online by visiting the course’s website.
And stay tuned for more blog posts about the open road, gasoline stations, students, and Ed Ruscha!
Curator of Academic Programs | Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art