This exhibition brings together works by Ed Ruscha that feature the Standard gasoline station, a leitmotif that runs throughout his work. It presents the Standard station depicted in photography, print, work on paper, book form, painting, as well as a sketch on a post-it note.
The earliest work on show, Standard, Amarillo, Tx (1962) is one of the series of photographs — featured in Ruscha’s Twenty-six Gasoline Stations — taken on late 1950s’ and early 1960s’ road trips between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. The ordinariness of the subject matter and “snapshot” style of the photographs were symptomatic of Ruscha’s interest in an art form that could be neutral and objective, while the desolate feel of the images spoke of the emptiness of the American West. This neutral recording of the gas stations stood in contrast and opposition to the flamboyant, involved and entirely subjective works of the abstract expressionists, and resonated with Ruscha’s interest in absence: of subject matter, of precedent, of meaning, and of the artist’s hand. The word standard itself – connoting the suppression of individuality and the preservation of objectivity – expanded on those themes, and the Standard gasoline station, alone among the twenty-six others, continued to feature in several of Ruscha’s works.
Ruscha’s Standard stations, as building types, do not change with the development of gas station architecture, but his expression of the subject evolves significantly. He found that the image of the Standard gasoline station lent itself particularly well to print, and in the late 1960s, he introduced composition, color, and atmosphere in iconic images such as Standard Station (1966) and Mocha Standard (1969). The dramatic angles and widescreen landscapes chimed with his interest in Hollywood, while standing in ironic contrast to the commonplace subject matter. Double Standard (1969) illustrates how the subject has lent itself to Ruscha’s interest in wordplay. The print also refers to Dennis Hopper’s photograph of the same name taken in 1961. The Hopper image is also featured in this exhibition, in the form of an invitation to a 1964 show of Ruscha’s work at the Ferus Gallery.
In its utter normalcy, the Standard station has also provided the perfect foil to the surrealism of some of Ruscha’s work, exemplified here in Cheese Mold Standard with Olive (1969), which leaves the viewer wondering how standard a gasoline station can be in the presence of a floating martini olive.
In later works, the building disappears and leaves the word silhouetted dramatically against the Western sky. Then in the 2003 painting Station, the word disappears leaving the building silhouetted against another Southern Californian landscape, just as the letters were. In the end, the image and the word are shown to be on some level interchangeable.
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