Jeff Brouws Editor and Compiler
Wendy Burton Editor and Compiler
Hermann Zschiegner Editor and Compiler
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Graphic Design; Nonfiction, Art and Cultural History
6 x 9 inches, hardcover, 288 pages, 298 color and 55 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN: 9780262018777
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95

From the Publisher. In the 1960s and 1970s, the artist Ed Ruscha created a series of small photo-conceptual artist’s books, among them Twentysix Gas Stations, Various Small Fires, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Real Estate Opportunities, and A Few Palm Trees. Featuring mundane subjects photographed prosaically, with idiosyncratically deadpan titles, these “small books” were sought after, collected, and loved by Ruscha’s fans and fellow artists. Over the past 30 years, close to 100 other small books that appropriated or paid homage to Ruscha’s have appeared throughout the world. This book collects 91 of these projects, showcasing the cover and sample layouts from each along with a description of the work. It also includes selections from Ruscha’s books and an appendix listing all known Ruscha book tributes.

These small books revisit, imitate, honor, and parody Ruscha in form, content, and title. Some rephotograph his subjects: Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Forty Years Later. Some offer a humorous variation: Various Unbaked Cookies (which concludes, as did Ruscha’s Various Small Fires, with a glass of milk), Twentynine Palms (29 photographs of palm-readers’ signs). Some say something different: None of the Buildings on Sunset Strip. Some reach for a connection with Ruscha himself: 17 Parked Cars in Various Parking Lots Along Pacific Coast Highway Between My House and Ed Ruscha’s.

With his books, Ruscha expanded the artist’s field of permissible subjects, approaches, and methods. With Various Small Books, various artists pay tribute to Ed Ruscha and extend the legacy of his books.

On 1 book list
Phil Patton

When artist Ed Ruscha offered up books full of his dry documentary photo views of gas stations and parking lots in the early 1960s, he could not have dreamed that he was foreshadowing not just typical content but also a typical business model for art-book publishing in the next century.

Self-published in small numbers, Ruscha’s books bore such titles as Twentysix Gas Stations, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, A Few Palm Trees, and Various Small Fires.

Ruscha’s books began as art, but their approach was soon preempted by others and became a means for analyzing and studying design. The subject matter of the photos in the books—such as gas stations and retail storefronts—was also emerging as subject matter for architectural study. Ruscha inspired both subject matter and approach. An example was Steven Izenour’s book White Tower, a study of the typology of the hamburger chain buildings. The Sunset strip views inspired Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s students of architecture and urbanism in the 1970s as an analytical tool.

Now, a new volume appears treating the books inspired by Ruscha’s books. That is, a book about books about books. The dizzying mirror in a mirror effect suggests the way Ruscha’s work has resounded in the visual culture. Ruscha’s gas stations inspired Jeff Brouws, one of the book’s editors, when he was setting out as a photographer.

The tone of cool detachment of Ruscha's volumes influenced many artists of the conceptualist era. As the authors explain, the Ruschas feature "mundane subjects photographed prosaically, with idiosyncratically deadpan titles." These "small books" were sought after, collected, and loved by Ruscha's fans and fellow artists. Over the past 30 years, close to 100 other small books that appropriated or paid homage to Ruscha’s have been created. Some are imitations, some come close to parody. The best build on the basic premises to introduce something new. For instance, Every coffee I drank in January 2010 by Hermann Zschiegner takes off from typologies of coffee-cup lid designs. It presents photos of the actual individual lids fitted to cups, day by day, many still bearing stains of the beverage. The result is a whimsical diary described as one of “a series of tributes” to New York City. Both the tops and bottoms of the lids have been photographed; on a few occasions the pages reflect that there was no cup consumed, on others more than one. “Zschiegner's coffees of January reside one to a page. Rectos feature the topside of a single lid, versos the corresponding bottom . . . As metonyms and indexes of the coffee that has been consumed, the uniqueness of each lid gives the respective drink a specificity that might otherwise be lacking from a straightforward inventory. The day’s consumption becomes a ritual act that produces a drawing . . .”

The Ruscha-inspired books tend to be limited-edition, even self-published volumes, reflecting a strategy of book making that appears to be growing more popular among photographers and designers. That business plan, like the limited-edition strategy of prints or other artworks, is a form of seriality that reflects the serial arrangement of objects photographed in such books. The result is an even more disorienting contemplation of “bookness.”

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