Ed Ruscha: On The Road

Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami

Three weeks, 120 feet of paper (seamlessly unified), twenty days of travel: these are all numbers which apply to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. A penetrating, raw documentary of road-tripping through the American landscape, this work was only a facet of Kerouac’s oeuvre belonging to the Beat Generation. Throughout his life, Kerouac refused such specific labels, as he once retorted ‘I’m not a beatnik. I’m a Catholic.’ In a parallel state, Ed Ruscha also disowns titles, signatures and self-reflexion. It is more than natural, then, that these two artists (one with paint, one with prose) would somehow generate a work which simultaneously reveals both of their talents and, curiously, more of their character than they would ever dare reveal if asked.

Ed Ruscha: On The Road is MOCA’s newest exhibition organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Upon entering the space, the viewer is presented with a wall of aerial photographs in black and white showing vacant parking lots and open-air, abandoned concrete spaces. These photographs, pooled from the Margulies Collection, initiate the conversation which will take place between image and storytelling. The relationship between the everyday and the extraordinary is not realized with these photographs, nor is it even slightly romanticized even as it is delivered in a creative space. Rather, they prelude a fragmented narrative which occurred far from the contemporary viewer’s consciousness and cannot be reinstated through collective memory. While traces of Cadillacs, beers, hot rods, midnight trysts, Mexico and rebellion in the midst of Post WWII culture might set off a few bells for an older audience, only a handful (if that) would be able to deeply empathize with the reckless, enriching experience of aimless wandering through Middle-class America. Empathy is not the endgame, nor is any sort of satisfaction in understanding the exhibition’s content.

Ruscha’s paintings and selected images (published inside a special edition of On The Road by the Gagosian Gallery and Steidl) congeal as a textbook hybrid of visual and written communication as each canvas, drawing and unique page of the novel are rendered with breathtaking banality. Ruscha’s mountain peaks in the foreground and blocks of white text overlaying attractive skyscapes in teal, emerald and chocolate tones offer no keys or shortcuts to absorbing Kerouac: their execution highlights only the media, itself. When viewing fifty framed, individual selections from the Ruscha/Kerouac book, it is near impossible to piece together any sort of coherent journey or positive result for the works’ protagonist, Sal Paradise, or any of his compatriots.

By themselves, Kerouac’s work and Ruscha’s works constitute stream-of-consciousness production, turning the eyes and brain into a happy mush in an effort at any directed reading. Together, these artists have produced a pertinent, powerful observation of an America that can’t be pointed to or even observed in real-time. In discarding the duties of an artist to create a multi-sensory interaction what transcends both time and space, Ed Ruscha and Kerouac tell us about the beautiful emptiness of our American existence.

MOCA North Miami
770 NE 125th Street
North Miami, FL 33161

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