By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The retrospective of works on paper, organized by the Whitney and on view at MOCA through mid-January, spans 40-plus years of engagement with language and representation, from 1959’s letterpress-and-inkstain Sweetwater— a game attempt to reconcile his graphic-design tendencies with the prevailing abstract expressionism of the time — to the contemporary cluster of small The Endpaintings reproducing end titles from various eras of movie history. All of Ruscha’s signature motifs are present: the Hollywood sign, the blurry silhouettes, the play of shadows and light, and the words — rendered as flat signage, or to look like folded paper, curled ribbon or spilled fluid. The humor is sometimes totally dumb, like the twin paintings each displaying half a word in hovering gothic script: Pudand ding(apparently reunited here for the first time since 1971). Most of the humor is less definable, though, and seems to arise from the artist’s insistence on examining the smallest atoms of vernacular culture. It is this ability to find puzzling absurdity — and therefore mystery — in the most taken-for-granted details of language and picture-making that Ruscha’s work most resembles Anderson’s.
I’m reminded of this awesome movie I happened to watch the afternoon before attending The End of the Moon: a low-budget digital-camera documentary by French New Wave doyenne Agn√®s Varda called The Gleaners & I. The 70-something Varda rambles across France finding people who still follow the harvest, stooping to gather the tons of produce missed by the machines of agribusiness. She follows this line of inquiry to urban dumpster divers, assemblage artists, and her own filmmaking practice, down to the construction of The Gleaners & I. In extending the alchemical salvage of the vernacular to basic tropes of language and communication, she lays out the mechanism that makes Anderson’s and Ruscha’s work function, and makes the irreducible underlying political power of their art-making clear. When you look at the discarded, overlooked detritus of the world, eschewing fetishistic consumerism to bend and engage with what is beneath you — literally and figuratively — you are rewarded with a tremendous, endlessly surprising outpouring of creative energy. And nobody in Houston gets a cut.
LAURIE ANDERSON: The End of the Moon| Royce Hall, UCLALive, November 5-6 | Campbell Hall, Santa Barbara, January 24-25 | Mondavi Center for the Arts, Davis, January 27 | Mandeville Hall, San Diego, January 29
COTTON PUFFS, Q-TIPS¬ģ, SMOKE AND MIRRORS: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha| MOCA, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles | Through January 17
Ed Ruscha is among 400 artists to donate works to "INCOGNITO," an exhibition and art sale benefiting the Santa Monica Museum of Art this Friday, November 19. All art is $250, and the identity of artists will be revealed only after purchase. For more info, see Calendar listings or call (310) 586-6488.