- ABOUT US
With a substantial donation, legendary artist and Oklahoman Ed Ruscha and his wife Danna give from their personal art collection to the state he once called home.
By Leighona Bernstein
Published January/February 2017
The hum of an engine; the white noise between radio stations; yellow lines blurring into one on a smooth blacktop as neon lights zoom past; freedom settles in like darkness over the highway. The story of the road trip to California is, in many ways, the story of America. In the 1850s, it was a journey to look for gold. During the Dust Bowl, families risked everything on the road for survival out west. And in 1956, Ed Ruscha and his friend Mason Williams drove a 1950 Ford sedan from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles seeking inspiration.
In a 2009 interview featured in the exhibition guide for the Ed Ruscha: Road Tested at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Ruscha said that drive of more than a thousand miles was crucial in shaping him as an artist.
“It was a very big trip for a couple of teenagers that didn’t know much about anything. It was a long way from Oklahoma,” Ruscha said. “It was more than a rite of passage. My art—really my life—evolved out of that trip.”
Best known for contributing to the conceptual and Pop Art movements, Ruscha was born in Nebraska and grew up in Oklahoma City.
“A main influence that affects my whole life came from visits to the Oklahoma City main library, where I spent many, many hours,” Ruscha says.
This early piece by Ed Ruscha, titled Sign, is a 1960 wood and collage on construction paper and was donated by the artist and his wife Danna to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
Those hours—as well as themes that would be familiar to anyone who grew up in Oklahoma—are evident in much of Ruscha’s art. And Oklahomans now may get to know the artist at Norman’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. In August 2016, Ruscha and his wife Danna donated twenty-eight pieces from their personal collection to the museum. Thirteen are Ruscha’s own work, and the others are by artists Joe Goode, George Herms, and Jerry McMillan. The gift represents a new chapter in the relationship between artist and museum that began when the FJJMA set out to acquire Ruscha’s No Man’s Land for its permanent collection. The iconic painting had been on display on a temporary basis since 2011.
“That is a major Ruscha painting,” says Mark White, Wylodean and Bill Saxon director at the FJJMA. “It deals with Oklahoma and his relationship to the state.”
In the piece, a white silhouette of Oklahoma and a poignant black question mark stand out against airbrushed shades of grey. Ruscha says the work was a reflection of a childhood surrounded by people who had lived in sod houses in Indian Territory and later drove Model Ts.
“Oklahoma had a young and rich history and was contained in a very unique shape, complete with a Panhandle,” Ruscha says. “I was compelled to document this in a painting that is full of history and personal memories.”
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Get There: The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. 555 Elm Avenue in Norman, (405) 325-3272 or ou.edu/fjjma.