Ed Ruscha and the Great American West

By Karin Breuer, Kerry Brougher, Colleen Terry, and D. J. Waldie

Book jacket featuring red and yellow sunset with "Ed Ruscha and the Great American West" text

Beginning in 1956, road trips on Route 66 across the American Southwest provided Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937) with a conceptual trove of themes and motifs that he has mined throughout his career. This exhibition catalogue explores the artist’s fascination with the evolving landscape and character of the “Great American West” in symbolic, evocative, and ironic renditions.

Ruscha’s work conveys an enduring fascination with vernacular imagery of the modern American West, especially as seen and experienced from the automobile. Gasoline stations, parking lots, building facades, billboards, and long stretches of roadway punctuated by telephone poles, cacti, and detritus are all featured. In addition, his iconic word images conjure up a contemporary Western sensibility: Adios, Rancho, Rodeo, and Honey . . . . I Twisted Through More Damned Traffic To Get Here.

The catalogue examines Ruscha’s career-long engagement with the notion of the American West—as romantic concept and modern reality. Divided into nine sections, the book traces the artist’s artistic endeavors thematically, beginning with his horizontal landscapes of the West and finishing with his word images fittingly titled “The End.”


Karin Breuer is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, the department of prints and drawings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She has organized more than twenty exhibitions for the Museums, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. Among her publications are Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism (2010); After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (2006); An American Focus: The Anderson Graphic Arts Collection (2000); and Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press: Making Prints, Doing Art (1997).

Kerry Brougher is the founding director of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. While holding such positions as chief curator and deputy director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Oxford, England; and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, he has organized numerous exhibitions that featured the moving image, including Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film since 1945 (1996), Notorious: Alfred Hitchcock and Contemporary Art (1999), Visual Music (2005), and The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image (2008). Brougher co-curated, with Neal Benezra, a retrospective of Ed Ruscha for the Hirshhorn and MOMA Oxford in 2000.

Colleen Terry is assistant curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she works primarily in the field of modern and contemporary printmaking. She is the author of Artful Animals (2013) and has contributed to the exhibition catalogues Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition (2015) and Claude Lorrain: The Painter as Draftsman (2007).

D. J. Waldie is the author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1996), Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles (2004), and Close to Home: An American Album (2004). He was a contributor to the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 (2013) and a curator of the digital exhibition Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940–1990 (2013), presented by the Huntington Library.

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