Ed Ruscha: On the Road

Ed Ruscha: On the Road

This exhibition, organized by Hammer chief curator Douglas Fogle, brings together two great visionaries of art and language - Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac. Both men revolutionized the transparent use of words to document and comment on the shifting character of the American cultural landscape.

In 1951, Kerouac wrote On the Road on his typewriter as a continuous 120 foot-long scroll, feverishly recording in twenty days his experiences during road trips in the U.S. and Mexico in the late 1940s. With its publication in 1957, Kerouac was acknowledged as the leading voice of the Beat Generation, a group of writers that included Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

Over the last few years Ed Ruscha has continued to explore his own fascination with the shifting emblems of American life by turning his keen aesthetic sensibility to Kerouac’s classic novel. Having created his own limited edition artist book version of On the Road in 2009 published by Gagosian Gallery and Steidl, and illustrated with photographs that he took, commissioned, or found, Ruscha has created an entirely new body of paintings and drawings that take their inspiration from passages in Kerouac’s novel.


Ed Ruscha: On the Road. Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. June 4, 2011 - October 2, 2011. Photo by Brian Forrest.

As Douglas Fogle suggests, “It is completely fitting that Ed Ruscha would take up the challenge of looking at Kerouac’s On the Road. In many ways Ruscha’s entire career has offered an artistic corollary to Kerouac’s linguistic portrait of the American landscape, giving concrete visual form to the poetry of our vernacular roadside. These new works are no different except that they channel one of the greatest chroniclers of the American landscape by appropriating and artistically framing fragmented instances of Kerouac’s language.”

This exhibition includes Ruscha’s edition of Kerouac’s legendary novel, six large paintings on canvas, and ten drawings on museum board, each taking its text from On the Road. Whether painted over snow-capped mountains in Ruscha’s signature all-caps lettering or drawn atop delicately spattered abstract backgrounds, Kerouac’s words provide the artist with a means to explore his own archetypal landscape. Isolating key sentences and phrases from the novel for his paintings and drawings such as “In California you chew the juice out of grapes and spit away the skin, a real luxury,” “the holy con man began to eat,” or “fit and slick as a fiddle,” Ruscha adds another layer of deadpan aesthetic analysis to Kerouac’s original and radical use of language.

Exhibition Schedule

Denver Art Museum
Denver, CO
December 24, 2011 – April 22, 2012

Museum of Contemporary Art
North Miami, FL
May 24 – September 2, 2012

This exhibition is made possible by a major gift from The Brotman Foundation of California.

Generous support is provided by Lannan Foundation, Michael Rubel and Kristin Rey, The Fran and Ray Stark Foundation, and Linda and Jerry Janger.

KCRW 89.9 FM is the official media sponsor of the exhibition.