The first is an exhibition of Alexander Calder's gouache paintings on paper. With 'Canal Zone', Richard Prince talks about his story. Ed Ruscha features a series of new small-scale bleach on linen paintings displaying typically cryptic snatches of language.
What I produce is not precisely what I have in mind—but a sort of sketch, a man-made approximation. That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential … as long as they have something else in theirs.
Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of Alexander Calder’s gouache paintings on paper. The exhibition is in two parts, the first in New York and the second in London.
In the late 1920s, Calder’s new method of sculpting—bending and twisting wire to “draw” three-dimensional figures in space—resonated with both early Conceptual and Constructivist art, as well as the language of early abstract painting. Seeking to capture the constant motion of life, he created kinetic sculptures in which flat, abstract shapes in light sheet metal, painted in a restricted palette of black, white, or bright primary colors, hang in perfect balance from wires. Marcel Duchamp was the first to describe the new works as “mobiles,” while his later standing “stabiles” employed welding and bolting techniques to reject the weight and solidity of sculptural mass, to produce forms that were both linear and planar, open and suggestive of motion. By 1950, Calder had achieved international renown, affording him opportunities to engineer his sculpture on a monumental scale.
Parallel to his sculptural practice, and expanding upon early work in illustration, brush drawing, and painting, Calder created a series of paintings in gouache during a yearlong stay in Aix-en-Provence in 1953. He would continue to work in gouache throughout his life. Painting quickly, he transcribed the vocabulary of his sculpture into a medium far more immediate than the large-scale works in sheet metal produced simultaneously. Adapting certain aspects of his sculptures relating to their angularity and kineticism, the gouaches present a synthesis of these geometric forms with more earthly, representational subjects. The spiraling vortices of his early wire sculptures reappear atop pyramids (a recurring motif following a flight over Egypt), or hovering beside red suns (impressions of Guatemala’s fiery sunrises). Boulders, solar systems, and cacti are points of departure for his exuberant line, which conveys arabesques, orbs, and layers of bold stripes. Delighting in nature and evoking the subconscious, Calder celebrated essential yet enigmatic forms in an array of ochres, yellows, and vermilion, a vivid palette reserved for a lifetime of spontaneous impressions.
Alexander Calder was born in Pennsylvania in 1898 and attended the Stevens Institute of Technology and Art Students League. He died in New York City in 1976. His work is included in public and private collections worldwide, including Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Calder's public commissions are on view in cities throughout the world, and his work has been the subject of hundreds of museum exhibitions, including “Alexander Calder: 1898–1976,” National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1998, traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art); “Calder: Gravity and Grace,” Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (2003, traveled to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid); “The Surreal Calder,” Menil Collection, Houston (2005, traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, through 2006); “Calder Jewelry,” Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (2008, traveled to Philadelphia Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; San Diego Museum of Art; and Grand Rapids Art Museum); “Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926–1933,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2008, traveled to Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); “Calder: Sculptor of Air,” Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome (2009–10); “Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act,” Seattle Art Museum (2009–10); “Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2010, traveled to Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; and Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC); “Calder’s Portraits: A New Language,” National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2011); and “Calder,” Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2013). “Calder Gallery II” is on view at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland through June 2014, and “Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic” is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until July 2014.
The Canal Zone Paintings.
I was born in the Canal Zone in 1949. Same year that George Orwell’s 1984 was published. Why the Canal Zone? My parents worked for the government, specifically for the OSS. I don’t remember much about Panama. The family moved to Braintree, Mass., twenty minutes south of Boston in 1954. The town had just built twenty-seven houses. All the same. It was called a “development.” The house was put up in like five days. It wasn’t made very well but it was brand new. Everything was “brand new.” The place we were in was called the suburbs.
“I Like Ike.”
I didn’t like Ike. And I didn’t like Mamie, his wife either. I liked TV, magazines, and movies. I liked game shows. ‘Truth Or Consequences.’ ‘Who Do You Trust.’ ‘What’s My Line.’ ‘You Bet Your Life.’ Groucho Marx hosted ‘You Bet Your Life.’ I wanted to be related to Groucho Marx.
Tarzan was my favorite movie. Maybe it was the jungle. I don’t know. I found the whole thing erotic. What can I say. . . I wanted to be Johnny Sheffield. . . Tarzan’s teenage sidekick.
My favorite baseball player. Jimmy Piersall. He played for the Red Sox. I was told he was touched. I didn’t know what “touched” meant. (Still a little too early for a psychiatrist.)
Jimmy once hit a home run and ran around the bases backwards. He went to third base instead of first. He went around the bases THE WRONG WAY. Jimmy would later check himself into an “institution” and when he got out, would wind up working for one of my uncles who managed business affairs for Ted Williams. (Williams was a straight arrow outfield slugger for the Red Sox.) Jimmy ran the Stop & Shop grocery chain in New England and employed my mother as a food demonstrator. (My mother quit the OSS after it became the CIA. She used to tell me she would hide in closets. After fifteen years she thought she was a suit. That’s no joke. You know the rest).
My mother’s job was pretty strange. She looked like June Cleaver in an apron. She would stand behind a small folding tray and hand out space age food. She handed out samples of Marshmallow, Cool Whip, Beef Jerky, Mayonnaise, Kool-Aid, Fruit Loops.
They never leave you.
I was into Zorro. Soupy Sales. Astronauts. Cars. Little Richard.
When I say “into,” it’s what I remember. And when I say “formative,” I mean, memories. Suburban ’50s shit. I don’t resist it. Why should I? Even if I did, the shit would still somehow end up in my paintings.
Mad Magazine. Playboy. West Side Story. Ernie Kovacs. The Ed Sullivan Show. Jack Paar. The Cold War. Rod Serling. Brand new completely redesigned cars coming off an assembly line every year. It seeps in. It coats you. It’s what I know. And if you have anything to say, it’s probably best to stick to what you know.
The Canal Zone Paintings started off as a “pitch.” It was a story about a family starting out on an X-mas vacation . . . landing on the island of St. Bart’s and after they land they learn that the rest of the world has been nuked, blown apart by a nuclear holocaust. On The Beach meets Lord of the Flies meets 28 Days Later. This family isn’t getting off the island any time soon. In a couple of days a bottle of water is worth more than a Rolex.
That “pitch” is buried in parts of the Zone Paintings. Most of the “pitch” would take a back seat in 2007 and evolve more into painting and collaging images of Rastas and naked women after I came up with the idea about a reggae band gigging as the “house band” on one of those monster cruise ships anchored out beyond Gustavia harbor, styling to the sounds of Radiodread. (In my movie, the reggae band manages to escape before the ship is burned and brutalized for its stores and provisions and comes ashore and takes over the Manapany . . . one of seven hotels on the island that become “occupied” by different “tribes.”)
I went back to Panama for the first time in 2005.
I was curious.
I went to the outer edges of its boundaries.
I liked the jungles, the uninhabited parts of Panama. I was hoping for a connection that I wasn’t connected to.
I liked the city too. It looked tired and worn down, leftover. It looked like Saigon in 1966. There were a lot of clothes hanging from clotheslines that were strung out across cement terraces.
I’m not going to explain why there’re Rastas and naked women in the paintings, except to say . . . formality . . . and, one thing leads to another. You figure it out. For me art is about continuation, autobiography (the past), what’s right next to you (the present), and the skills to interpret feelings and sensations. There’re no mysteries. No secrets. I get it. And it’s about the only thing I get.
When I first showed the Canal Zone Paintings I thought they were cool, different . . . I had never seen them before. I found new techniques to marry inkjet and collage. I cut out huge reproductions of figures and painted on the back of the cut-outs, substituting the paint for glue and pasting the forms next to already inkjetted images and letting the excess paint leak out the sides and bottom of the cut-out after I dragged over the cuts with a silk-screen squeegee. The “leaks” of white paint were accidental. At first I thought I needed to get rid of the mistake. Cover it up. But I let it go. It didn’t take long to realize that the “mess” would let the viewer know exactly how the shapes got “stuck.” The compositions? A ribbon of figures. Starting from left to right. They were just hanging there in a field of wine-colored reds. I was working with figures that were originally reproduced in black-and-white. I wanted their noncolor to mix with a palette of grey and silver. The repros of women were supplied from friends. Dian Hanson, John McWhinnie, Richard Kern. One repro came from Eric Kroll. I gave each of them a small study in return for their giving.
I don’t want to talk about where the Rastas came from.
Like most images I work with they weren’t mine. I didn’t know anything about Rastas. I didn’t know anything about their culture or how they lived. I had plenty of time to find out. What I went with was the attraction. I liked their dreads. The way they were dressed . . . gym shorts and flip-flops. Their look and lifestyle gave off a vibe of freedom. Maybe I’m wrong about the freedom but I don’t give a shit about being wrong.
When I pasted the guitar onto the first Rasta . . . that was my way in. It was my CONTRIBUTION. It was like a new fig leaf. (I was reading a bio of the Beatles. The first guitar I pasted on was George Harrison’s Rickenbacker that came from one of those pictures they put in the middle of bios. Inside information.) I think this light bulb went off when I was staying on St. Barts in 2006. Maybe when I was sitting there looking out into the ocean, staring at one of those big-ass cruise ships.
I like iconic images.
I thought the Rasta and the oversized collaged guitar looked like it belonged. It looked as if I knew what I was doing. The two images fused and “married” into one new image and made up a whole new story.
Prints and Photographs
Gagosian is pleased to announce three separate exhibitions and projects by Ed Ruscha in New York, including his participation in Frieze New York with a series of recent paintings.
From the outset of his career, Ruscha has employed unconventional materials in his work, sometimes replacing graphite and paint with gunpowder, fruit juice, coffee, or syrup. In the 1990s, he began making small paintings using bleach on binder's linen, stretched over board, like found books. The paintings, which he referred to informally as "threats and revenges," were based on ransom notes, both real and made-up. Using bleach, he removed his own words, one by one, leaving a series of cryptic blank blocks where they once appeared. Thus by suppressing content, he gave each painting its own indecipherable secret. Following these initial experiments, he continued to work with bleach on actual book covers, probing the relationship between image and word to the point of obscurity; abbreviating titles, and sometimes occluding their subjects entirely to create new word plays and allusions.
A series of new small-scale bleach on linen paintings display typically cryptic snatches of language—CRYSTAL SKIES, SERVICE CLOWN, SOUR TWIST. Picked out against somber grey, blue, and maroon linen, ghostly letters loom against dark grounds. On closer scrutiny, incidental sprays, spots, and spatters appear, mapping the random gestures and uncontrollable incursions during the working process. Exchanging paint and canvas for bleach and bookcloth, Ruscha continues to mine the relationship between image and word, original and readymade—revealing them to be ever more slippery and mysterious. A catalogue of the recent works, with a cover designed by Ruscha himself, will be published by Karma and Gagosian Gallery.
On May 6, Ruscha’s first ever public commission in New York City will be unveiled. The pastel drawing Honey, I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic Today (1977) will be reconceived as a huge mural painted onto an apartment building adjacent to the High Line on West 22nd Street and 10th Avenue. High Line Art is presented by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
From May 8–June 14, Gagosian will present “Ed Ruscha: Prints and Photographs” at 980 Madison Avenue, a major survey of prints produced over the past forty years, and a selection of photographs taken in the 1960s and printed in 2003, as well as color trial proofs.
Ruscha’s photography, drawing, painting, and artist books record the shifting emblems of American life during the last half century. His deadpan representations of Hollywood logos, stylized gas stations, and archetypal landscapes distill the imagery of popular culture into a language of cinematic and typographical codes as accessible as they are profound. His wry choice of words and phrases, which feature heavily in his work, draw upon the moments of incidental ambiguity implicit in the interplay between the linguistic signifier and the concept signified.
Ed Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1937 and studied painting, photography, and graphic design at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts). His work is collected by museums worldwide. Recent solo museum exhibitions include “Witty Wonders from Anagrams to Gunpowder and All the Parking Lots on Sunset Strip,” Whitney Museum of American Art (2004); the drawing retrospective “Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips®, Smoke and Mirrors,” which toured U.S. museums in 2004–05; “Ed Ruscha: Photographer,” Jeu de Paume, Paris (2006, traveled to Kunsthaus Zurich; and Museum Ludwig, Cologne); “Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting,” Hayward Gallery, London (2009, traveled to Haus der Kunst, Munich and Moderna Museet, Stockholm); “Ed Ruscha: Road Tested,” Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2011); “On the Road,” Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011, traveled to Denver Art Museum, Colorado; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami); "Reading Ed Ruscha," Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2012), “Artist Rooms on Tour: Ed Ruscha,” Tate Gallery, London (2012, traveled to Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, England); “Ed Ruscha: Standard,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012-13, traveled to Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA); “Ed Ruscha: Los Angeles Apartments,” Kunstmuseum Basel (2013); “Ed Ruscha: Books and Paintings,” Brandhorst Museum, Munich (2013); and “In Focus: Ed Ruscha,” J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2013).
For further information please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +1.212.744.2313. All images are subject to copyright. Gallery approval must be granted prior to reproduction.
Image: © 2014 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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