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Ed Ruscha: "Triptych"


Ed Ruscha was commissioned to create two large-scale paintings that flank his A Particular Kind of Heaven, 1983, which is in the museum’s collection, to form a spectacular, monumental triptych. Continuing the themes of the 1983 painting, the new panels each have the existing canvas’s dimensions of 90 by 136 1/2 inches, resulting in a stunning, combined work that measures more than 7 by 34 feet. The triptych is installed on the entry wall to the 20th- and 21st-century American art galleries, one of the most prominent locations in the new de Young.

A Particular Kind of Heaven is one of a series of related works Ruscha created in the mid-1980s in which words and phrases are silhouetted against the sky. The painting’s large-scale, panoramic format and lucent chromatic light effects relate to a long tradition of American landscape painting, represented by such Hudson River School artists as Frederic E. Church and Albert Bierstadt and other artists of the American West.

Ruscha’s westward-facing California sunset resonates with the symbolic associations of the American West, particularly the perception of California as an earthly Eden or El Dorado and the locus for the ultimate fulfillment of America’s “manifest destiny” to settle the continent. Ruscha’s words, “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” hover over the horizon like a form of geometric skywriting and dominate the sunset sky. Related to, but isolated from, the context of language and clear communication, Ruscha’s enigmatic words invite scrutiny and pose an implicit question by drawing the viewer’s attention to the disjunctions between words, language, and meaning, but ultimately defying precise definition.

Like much of his work over a long career, Ruscha’s two new panels re-visit and reinvent his earlier work—an essential component of his art practice—extending it both physically and conceptually. Ruscha’s new panels enhance the all-encompassing panoramic scope and scale of his earlier painting.