Art in Art: Mark Ruwedel on Ed Ruscha’s American West

The West has been a metaphor for freedom, opportunity, and adventure throughout American history. The cowboy has become an American icon; the frontier, a perpetual destination. It may have been this westward madness that caused the artist Ed Ruscha to move from Oklahoma to Los Angeles in 1956, when most of the art world was flocking to New York City. Luckily for Ruscha, he chose the right coast; much of his most iconic work is directly inspired by the landscape of Los Angeles, even (or, rather, especially) its most mundane sites. He depicts its streets, its buildings, and even its parking lots in various mediums, particularly in photographs. Photo series such as “Some Los Angeles Apartments” (1965), “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” (1966), and “Pacific Coast Highway” (1974) glorify the city’s characteristically low-lying, tacky architecture.

It is Ruscha’s “Apartments” that photographer Mark Ruwedel uses as inspiration for We All Loved Ruscha, 15 Apts (2012). For this work, Ruwedel tracked down 15 of the same apartments Ruscha captured almost 50 years earlier. In his practice, Ruwedel is interested in documenting the history of landscapes and thinks of “the land as being an enormous historical archive.” He has photographed the Hopewell and Adena burial mounds and railroad tracks gone to seed (Westward the Course of Empire, 1994-2006), and has revisited and photographed earthworks years after their completion. If both land art and railroad tracks can be earthworks, then the houses of L.A. can be sculptures; Ed Ruscha’s photographic preservation of these buildings elevated them into the historic record, something Ruwedel makes clear in his homage.

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