New exhibit at Oklahoma gallery focuses on famed pop artist Ed Ruscha’s roots

The Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center in Oklahoma City is hosting an exhibit on pop-art icon Ed Ruscha and the first-ever examination of his roots, including his Sooner State upbringing and the impact of Route 66 on him.

The center’s Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery is hosting the show in his hometown until July 5. Free tickets up to two weeks in advance can be ordered here.

The center sits in the Automobile Alley neighborhood (map here) of central Oklahoma City, not far from the 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard alignments of Route 66.

According to the center:

Ed Ruscha: OKLA is the first exhibition to focus on the artist’s Oklahoma roots — his family, his upbringing and his discovery of his calling as an artist. It is also, remarkably, his first solo museum exhibition in his home state. Ruscha lived in Oklahoma City from the ages of 5 to 18: the formative years of both his life and his artistic sensibility. His Midwestern childhood had a profound impact on his art, which the exhibition explores through 74 works from all phases of his career, organized into five interrelated thematic sections:
Oklahoma OK includes works related to his childhood home.
51% Angel, 49% Devil casts light on his Catholic upbringing.
Pop Origins focuses on the popular culture of his youth, including movies, comic strips, slang and advertising.
Route 66 chronicles his observations about driving, car culture and the myths of the road.
Made in U.S.A. examines his views of American history, identity and industry.
Hands-on art stations allow visitors to explore his most celebrated art forms — word paintings and artist’s books. Guests can also use the library, which includes a curated selection of books and videos for all ages about themes from this exhibition.

Ruscha is 83 years old and still active. Forbes wrote about the show:

“My impression is that he wouldn’t want to have done this show at the beginning of his career. My sense is that he is kind of piecing everything together and thinking about his background in Oklahoma and embracing it a way that he did not as much as a young man,” says Alexandra Schwartz, co-curator of the show, scholar, and well-known historian of Ed Ruscha’s life and work.

The Oklahoma-based The Lost Ogle blog talked to Ruscha about the state where he was reared:

“(Oklahoma) is an unbelievable, romantic place to me,” Ruscha said. “Every time I return to the state I want to drive out to the panhandle because it’s so austere and beautiful. It sort of revives my entire feeling about the state of Oklahoma.” […]
“I associate a certain dialect to Oklahoma that I find completely charming,” Ruscha said. “It might be something like “He up and went downtown!” or “I can’t find my keys nowhere!” That kind of stuff originates in that part of the country and it triggers good thoughts to me.” […]

Ruscha’s 1963 book, “Twentysix Gasoline Stations,” often is considered the first modern art book and helped launch his career. The volume features images of gas stations, many of them along Route 66.

A copy of the book is notoriously hard to find and can be hundreds and even thousands of dollars if a copy is procured.

However, this website offers you a chance to leaf through it online, and many libraries also have it.

(An image of the Ed Ruscha painting “Standard” at a gallery in San Francisco by Thomas Hawk via Flickr)

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