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ED RUSCHA'S LIGHT: An Exhibition of Works Related to the Artist's Recent Commission for the Getty Center

May 12 - September 13, 1998

April 23, 1998

Los Angeles-Universal, spontaneous, and direct, drawings provide a fascinating glimpse into an artist's creative process.Peter Paul Rubens and the Art of Drawing in Flanders, on view August 29 through October 22, 2000 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, features drawings that span this legendary master's career. Regarded as one of the most influential and successful painters and draftsmen of his day, Rubens is well-represented in the Getty's collection. A new acquisition is the focal point of the exhibition-Rubens' magnificent drawing The Assumption of the Virgin (about 1624), which he rendered over a sketch by his student Paulus Pontius. The drawing was made as the model for an engraving, which will also be on view. The exhibition also features drawings by Rubens' contemporaries-Flemish artists such as Anthony van Dyck, Frans Snyders, Jan Cossiers, and Jacob Jordaens.

Rubens (1577-1640), who lived and worked in Antwerp, synthesized artistic styles and techniques in an extraordinary manner. Inspired by artists of his native Flanders (the Netherlandish region of modern-day Belgium of which Antwerp is the capitol) as well as Italian masters such as Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael, he achieved compositions of unprecedented vitality, monumentality, and scope. His imagery helped define the international Baroque style, famous for its heroic portrayal of the human form in motion, coloristic bravura, and vivid contrasts of light and shadow.

An exhibition of two dozen paintings and works on paper tracing the theme of light in the work of Los Angeles artist Edward Ruscha over the past 25 years opens May 12, 1998 at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center. Ed Ruscha's Light, curated by John Walsh, director of the Museum, is one of a series of exhibitions prompted by recent Getty commissions.

In conjunction with the opening of the new Getty Center, the J. Paul Getty Trust commissioned Ruscha to produce a large painting for the lobby of the Harold M. Williams Auditorium. The monumental 23-foot-high painting, PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS, depicts light entering through a high window and falling in a beam to form a dazzling white patch on the floor below. This is not the first appearance of emanations of light in the artist's work. The exhibition, on view in the Museum's West Pavilion, includes pieces from as early as 1972 as well as preparatory studies for the Getty commission.

PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS, permanently installed in the Auditorium, can be seen by the public during regular Getty Center hours. The commission was overseen by Lisa Lyons, a consultant to the Getty and a respected curator of contemporary art, formerly of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and most recently of the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles. She worked with Harold Williams, former President and CEO of the Getty Trust, Stephen D. Rountree, Executive Vice President of the Trust, and Walsh to commission the painting and she has also advised on the exhibition Ed Ruscha's Light.

A painter, printmaker, and filmmaker, Edward Ruscha was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1937, and lived some 15 years in Oklahoma City before moving permanently to Los Angeles where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute from 1956 through 1960. By the early sixties he was well known for his paintings, collages, and printmaking, and for his association with the Ferus Gallery group, which also included artists Robert Irwin, Edward Moses, Ken Price, and Edward Kienholz. He later achieved recognition for his paintings incorporating words and phrases and for his many photographic books, all influenced by the deadpan irreverence of the Pop Art movement.

When he was asked by the Getty to propose a painting for the tall, narrow wall in the daylit lobby of its new Auditorium, Ruscha chose a motif he had been developing for several years: a rectangular window with cross-shaped window mullions casting pronounced light and shadows onto the floor. After studying the way light actually falls into the Auditorium lobby as the sun moves across the sky at different times of day and in different seasons, he produced a series of five pastel drawings with variations on the motif.

"To show us his idea, Ed brought us two large pastel drawings, that's all," recalls Walsh. "Each showed a beam of light - a bundle of dazzling colored rays - coming through a window and hitting the floor in a radiant patch of white. We loved them - they're in the show, with the other preparatory studies. But we wondered how he was going to translate those delicate effects into acrylic on a gigantic scale."

One of Ruscha's subsequent studies, also shown in the exhibition, was a test of the highly demanding technique he chose for the final painting. Using a spray gun and conventional brushes, he applied a mist of acrylic paint in a narrow range of closely related hues, in layers of varying density, to create the image of a radiant beam that still retained some of the fine, soft qualities of the pastels. Ultimately the artist placed the 23-foot-high canvas horizontally on the floor of his studio in Venice and painted the rays from side to side using a long straightedge and a rolling carriage to support his arm.

"Ruscha calls this his most sober work so far, and although it's ambiguous, it is remarkably free of irony," Walsh says. "By the time he got the Getty commission, he'd already done several paintings - with words - of a room into which light pours from a high window. PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS is a vastly larger and simpler treatment of this motif, which had been in his head, on and off, for 25 years."

To organize this exhibition, Walsh and Lyons had Ruscha's help in looking over most of his previous work. They were struck by the many different appearances of light in the artist's work over the years, and by its suggestive power - alluding to inspiration, faith, miracles, and enlightenment. As the exhibition's opening image Walsh chose Gospel (1972), one of the few pieces in the show that does not make explicit reference to light. Painted in large black capital letters on raw canvas, the word GOSPEL is pierced by real arrows that seem to be shooting diagonally upward - aspiration going up, revelation coming down - which seemed to Walsh to foreshadow Ruscha's use of light for similar suggestions later on.

The exhibition includes six of Ruscha's Miracle drawings from the mid-1970s, pastels in which light bursts forth from skies with dark clouds. (Visitors will also have a chance to see, in the Museum's Lecture Hall on a date to be announced, a rarely screened 28-minute film that Ruscha made in 1975, Miracle, in which a car mechanic undergoes a mysterious transformation.)

In the 1980s a more subtle motif began to appear, again in a series of drawings, some incorporating dried vegetable pigments: a mysterious patch of light cast by an unseen window that serves as background for phrases such as WONDER SICKNESS and 99% DEVIL, 1% ANGEL. By the 1990s, Ruscha was creating larger paintings of light projected into empty rooms, some with ironical titles such as An Exhibition of Gasoline Powered Engines (1993).

Born and raised Catholic, Ruscha readily admits to the influence of religion in his work. He is also aware of the centuries-old tradition of religious imagery in which light beams have been used to represent divine presence. But his work makes no claims for a particular moral position or spiritual attitude.

Ruscha's work has been exhibited internationally for three decades and is represented in major museum collections. Among his other public commissions are a mural commissioned for the Miami-Dade Public Library, Miami, Florida (1985 and 1989); and for the Great Hall of the Denver Central Library, Colorado (1994-95). Ruscha is represented in Los Angeles by Gagosian Gallery and in New York by Leo Castelli Gallery.

Contemporary Art at the Getty Center
Beginning in 1992, the J. Paul Getty Trust, under the leadership of then-president Harold Williams, decided to commission works of art for several important public spaces at the Getty Center. Edward Ruscha's PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS is one of three major commissions resulting from that decision, along with Robert Irwin's dramatic three-acre Central Garden, and Alexis Smith's Taste, a witty mixed-media installation in the Restaurant at the Getty Center. Independent curator Lisa Lyons worked with Williams, Museum director John Walsh, and Executive Vice President Stephen D. Rountree on both the Ruscha and the Smith commissions and continues to consult on potential future commissions for Getty Center public areas. She was the guest curator for A Matter of Taste, one of the inaugural exhibitions of the new Getty Museum, dealing with Alexis Smith's project.

The Getty's involvement in contemporary art includes not only the architecture of the Getty Center and art for its public spaces, but also the ongoing work of the Museum, the Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Conservation Institute, the Information Institute, the Education Institute for the Arts, and the Grant Program.

The Getty Museum involves contemporary artists in a number of other ways. In addition to temporary exhibitions, the Museum's Department of Photographs' permanent collection holds many works by prominent contemporary artists such as David Hockney and Carrie Mae Weems. Through the Museum's Audioguide, voices of ten contemporary artists including Ruscha, Alexis Smith, and John Baldessari comment on works of art in the collection, and in-person "Point of View" gallery tours are occasionally offered by local artists.

In 1997, the Research Institute commissioned for its main reading room a temporary, untitled clay sculpture by British artist Andy Goldsworthy, and this year, Southern California-based artist Bill Viola is participating as a Getty Scholar. The Institute's Special Collections includes many archives relating to contemporary art, including Robert Irwin's and Carolee Schneemann's, as well as a large holding of 20th-century artist's books. Through a current initiative called "The Participation Project," the Institute works with Los Angeles artists and community organizations to explore issues surrounding art-making and civic participation.

In March 1998, the Conservation Institute held an international conference on conserving contemporary art, entitled "Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of 20th Century Art." In addition, the Institute has conducted treatments on art works including Edward Kienholz's mixed media sculpture The Back Seat Dodge '38, and Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros' Los Angeles mural América Tropical.

Through L.A. Culture Net, the Information Institute and its community partners are helping contemporary artists and arts organizations to establish a presence on the World Wide Web, and connecting digital resources in contemporary art from local museums, libraries, and cultural institutions into a "virtual data base." The Digital Experience, a community resource room located in the Getty Museum, gives visitors hands-on experience of cultural information on computer networks, including some of the most innovative digital art sites on the Web.

ArtsEdNet, the Web site of the Education Institute for the Arts, has featured online exhibitions of work by Sandy Skoglund, Jesus Bautista Moroles, and John Biggars, and has invited provocative online discussions between school children and working artists.

The Grant Program has supported over 1,800 projects that promote the understanding and conservation of cultural heritage, in many cases addressing issues related to contemporary art. Recent grants have included support for the conservation treatment of minimalist paintings at the Guggenheim; a roundtable addressing video art preservation issues; a conservation survey of Judy Chicago's Dinner Party; publications on the art of Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns, as well as on contemporary Chicano art, art theory, cinema, and photography; research fellowships focused on contemporary Latino art in the United States, popular Islamic art in urban Senegal, and modern Japanese architecture; and multicultural internship grants to support student interns at the Museum of Contemporary Art, LACE, and a number of other local museums, alternative spaces, and community galleries that showcase contemporary artists. In addition, a fund established by the Getty Trust at the California Community Foundation supports artists at mid-career as well as arts organizations in the Los Angeles area. It has also supported, through local assessment grants, the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica. It has provided support for Bay Video Art in preserving archives of contemporary art.

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