Kelsey enjoys art that incorporates words. I like almost all art. I love taking my kids to exhibits, far more than they like going. I knew as soon as a Ruscha exhibit was in the area, Kelsey would enjoy it. He’s the consummate manipulator of words and landscape. I never tire of wondering about the connection between his visuals and choice of text, sometimes I come up with something that feels enlightening and sometimes I come up empty. Either way, the thought process is fun.
This week we visited Ed Ruscha: On the Road at the Hammer Museum, a series of paintings and photographs inspired by Kerouac’s On the Road. The first room of the exhibit contains paintings of the tops of Ruscha’s signature mountain ranges with selected phrases from the book. My favorite was the green “greatest seventy-yard passer in the history of New Mexico state reformatory.” I chuckle every time I think of it. It describes a characteristic that isn’t quite resume material, but everyone should be great at something, I guess. Neither Kelsey or I have read On the Road, but you don’t need to know too much about the book to enjoy the exhibit. I read The Grapes of Wrath last spring, and scenes from that book resonated with me through out our visit. Smaller paintings in the room contained phrases over a splattered background, while not quite as monumental, they’re still interesting.
I interpreted a bit of a biting tone in the art. I saw a commentary on America that included an element of snarky in it. Then Tany Ling started to sing. We chose our visit to coincide with an ongoing event called “Sing Your Favorite Book.” Several times throughout the run of the show, a performer is in the gallery singing his or her favorite book. During our visit, Tany Ling, a contemporary and experimental music singer who performs all genres, sang from The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. She performed excerpts as if they were a Gregorian chant. It was beautiful to listen to and brought an entirely different mindset to the work. The paintings felt more majestic, the words took on greater import, the entire exhibit was recast in a new light. Changing one sense, hearing, deeply affected the viewing experience. Kelsey came away enthralled by the music, I left intrigued by how my perception of the art changed.
The second room displayed an illustrated On the Road compiled by Ruscha. A combination novel and artist’s book, Ruscha illustrated the novel with photos he either took, appropriated, or commissioned. It’s amazing.
The exhibit it up until October 2nd. Sing Your Favorite Book performances are scheduled for August 11, August 19 and October 1.