The first gallery in the exhibition Ed Ruscha: Road Tested introduces us to the artist and sets the stage for his ongoing relationship with the road. As a young man, Ruscha was inspired to “get away.” He was motivated by what he didn’t want and ready to learn what he didn’t know. Adventure and anticipation pulled him toward the horizon. Innocent ignorance made him brave. From the viewer’s distance, the story seems perfect. Mission accomplished with spit and fortitude, and all the romance of young dreams intact.
However, the reality of such adventures—what is actually found at the end of the rainbow—elucidates the sense of irony, even cynicism that gives Ruscha’s art its edge. This exhibition strikes a melancholic tone in my mind, one that is probably inevitable with this body of work. Paintings of the Hollywood sign, for example, provide a symbol of fairytale fulfillment of youthful dreams as it pushes toward the horizon, beckoning all dreamers to follow. Yet experience reveals that what lies behind the sign is rubble piled against the homely structure that supports the dreamer’s beacon. The Hollywood sign is another marker along the road, an emblem best seen from a distance.