Allen Ruppersberg's verbal curiosity

High Line Art
Feb 28, 2013 3:15PM

Since early February, High Line Art has been proud to present its latest BILLBOARD: “You & Me,” by famed California conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg. Located within the Edison ParkFast parking lot next to the High Line at West 18th Street and 10th Avenue, today is the last day to see the artist's iconic posters on display.

You & Me” features a colorful array of Ruppersberg’s trademark posters, never before shown in this configuration or scale. Ruppersberg has included similar posters in his work since the 1980s, appropriating the distinctive background upon which he lays his peculiar form of spontaneous poetry from flyers advertising neighborhood events on the streets of Los Angeles. “When you drive around LA you see these posters on telephone poles advertising public events. It’s a form that I can empty out and fill up again,” says Ruppersberg. Arranged side by side on a grid to cover the entire surface of the 25-by-75-foot billboard, the posters display the many combinations of the words “you” and “me.”

Ruppersberg has long displayed an interest in the relationship between language and meaning. As critic Andrew Berardini wrote of Ruppersberg’s work, “it isn’t just the thingness that interests Ruppersberg. The thingness of print or the thingness of language.” This linguistic and literary fascination dates back to Ruppersberg’s early projects, such as “Where’s Al,” in which Ruppersberg tacked snapshots and index cards to a wall at Pomona College, each documenting people’s search for the artist. Other early works included “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” wherein the artist wrote out the text of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece across myriad blank canvases with a Sharpie. Each of these works questions the meaning of words and language, and their relation to human behavior.

These themes were particularly poignant in “The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl,” Ruppersberg’s verbal illustration of Allen Ginsburg’s iconic poem. Ruppersberg rewrote the poem phonetically, on his typical colored poster background. “I took the form—the colored posters—and then rewrote the poem using phonetic dictionaries and combining three different phonetical pronunciation forms,” explains Ruppersberg in a 2009 interview with BOMB Magazine. The piece is then fulfilled by visitors spelling the words out and piecing the poetry together: “when you come into the gallery you’re compelled to start reading out loud.”

The complexity of these installations is present in “You & Me” as well. The many verbal and linguistic permutations and associations at play in the piece can be read in different orders, with varying emphases, allowing for unexpected connections between words and ideas. When describing his practice, Ruppersberg explained to Frédéric Paul that “it’s about ideas and art and all the ways that they can exist together… It’s not really how the thing appears that counts, it’s still conceptual.”

(Top) Photo by Timothy Schenck, (Bottom) Photo by Austin Kennedy

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