The Paper-thin Artificiality of Ed Ruscha's Hollywood
Ed Ruscha’s career in Los Angeles serves as a time capsule of mid-century West Coast culture, documenting advertisements and the city’s atmosphere through deadpan wit and an artistic eye shaped by Hollywood. In Hollywood (1968), the gradient yellow of the Hollywood sign, displaced from its home in the Hollywood Hills, appears to blend in with the hazy orange and purple sunset. The letters of the sign appear impossibly thin, giving the scene a plastic artificiality, much like that of a stand-up movie set. For Ruscha, the paper-thin, and consequently weak, appearance of his Hollywood sign is representative of the American Dream and the artificiality of Hollywood glamour. In the years preceding the creation of Ruscha’s print, the Hollywood sign quite literally came apart. The top of the first “O,” the top of the “D,” and the entire third “O” collapsed, while the second “L” fell victim to an arsonist’s fire. In addition, the film industry was experiencing a degree of financial tumult during the 1970s. Ruscha’s depiction of the sign is reflective of that, as the potential for decay remains in the back of the viewer’s mind because the letters appear so precariously balanced. Consideration of the sign’s deterioration proves that Hollywood glamour was, in fact, seemingly paper-thin and destined for decline.
The Hollywoodization of Hollywood itself, or rather all of Los Angeles, and its emphasis on the artificial led Ruscha to perceive the city as a “cardboard cut-out town.” This apparent artificiality is reflected in Ruscha’s cinematic works and the varying manifestations of decay detailed in works such as Triumph (1994) and The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1968). The theme of wasting away in Hollywood may seem to contradict the “concrete immortality” with which Ruscha regarded giant film corporations such as Twentieth Century Fox, and the art of cinema as a whole, but this juxtaposition serves as a commentary on technological change within the industry, rather than the powerhouse production companies themselves. Trends within Hollywood rise and fall very quickly, and thus the corrosion of stardom is heavily integrated into Ruscha’s work as a means of acknowledging and reflecting the fickleness of the industry and its surrounding culture.