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Ed Ruscha, L.A. Pop Art Legend, Forced Out of Venice Studio for City's 'Parking Good'

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Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 5:15 PM
click to enlarge Gone, 1992
  • Gone, 1992

Sorry, Los Angeles: Ed Ruscha has left the building.

The saddest part is, we hardly heard him go. Two years after an initial media storm revealed the City of L.A. might be trying to push the pop-art master out of his Venice studio shack for the sake of a parking lot, he exited quietly in early April.

It's the end of an era, really, marked only by a New Yorker snippet called "Moving Day" that couldn't have come at a stranger time:

A new exhibit at MOCA has revived the city's high-art interest in street painting and liquid lettering.

Ruscha did it first -- though instead of painting directly onto a street or building, he brings the street alive, just as it is, onto his own canvas. Now he's gone.

Of course, he only moved one municipality over, to Culver City -- somewhat of a blossoming architectural hotspot -- but his absence leaves a huge hole in the fragile Venice arts scene.

click to enlarge Ruscha gets the NY treatment - NEW YORKER
  • New Yorker
  • Ruscha gets the NY treatment

And for what? We couldn't get a hold of L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl for comment, but sources say it's just as we feared: The land Ruscha was using as an open-air extension of his studio, a spot owned by the city between Electric Avenue and (an ever-gentrifying) Abbott Kinney Boulevard, is now one step closer to becoming a parking lot.

Once again, it seems New York values the wild and precious L.A. art scene more than we do, right here inside of it:

By this week, Ed Ruscha will have left the studio in Venice, California, that he occupied for the past twenty-six years, a nine-thousand-square-foot former Coors-beer warehouse on Electric Avenue, where the railroad used to run. "This ceiling is thirty feet," Ruscha said, surveying the place the other day. He was wearing black suspenders over a paint-spattered striped shirt, jeans, and a pair of New Balance sneakers. "My new place--a warehouse in Culver City--is only about twenty." The move is not entirely by choice. Ruscha paints en plein air behind the building, on land owned by the city, which plans to build a parking lot there.

The next-door city of Santa Monica is pioneering a new wave of cheap housing for artists and musicians, doing everything it can to become what Venice has always effortlessly been: fucking cool. Culver City, new host to Ruscha, isn't far behind.

Meanwhile, condemned to the governance of far-off L.A. City Hall, Venice is well on its way to becoming just another Westwood, Brentwood, Wilshire corridor -- victim to the will of a city government that consistently favors moneyed developers and couldn't give less of a crap about the little guys.

click to enlarge Back of Hollywood, 1977
  • Back of Hollywood, 1977

Not that Ruscha is little. He's on par with pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Yet he's our Warhol, SoCal as they come, seeing all this bleak desolation for what it is and loving it like that. Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Standard Station. Thirty-Four Parking Lots (ironic).

Emily Winters of the Venice Arts Council says she noticed Ruscha's studio neighbor, Laddie John Dill, is gone from his old space as well.

Arnold Springer, a longtime Venetian who's known for knowing the currents on this kind of thing, says he has no idea what happened, but tells the Weekly: "Both of them said at a certain point that if they lost that [outdoor] space, they wouldn't be able to work there anymore."

Springer adds that he believes Ruscha and Dill's landlord may have raised the rent, in addition to the city pushing them off the land.

"I hate to move out, 'cause I love it here," Ruscha says in the New Yorker piece.

We'll update as soon as we gain more insight into how, exactly, two of Venice's crown jewels -- a big part of the reason many of us move here in the first place -- are less important than whatever modern wonder will spring from their old lot.

"That land is necessary for the parking good'" said Councilman Rosendahl back in 2008. Read Weekly reporter Tibby Rothman's original story here: "Asphalt Beats Artists in Venice." And here are some images from his most recent show.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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