Pop artist Ed Ruscha's rare books come to Cornell library

May 19, 2011

Ed Ruscha, a leading exemplar of the West Coast Pop Art movement through painting, photography, and film, also produced "artist's books" containing original art in book format. Thanks to Paul '60 and Helen Anbinder '62, about 20 books including 14 of Ruscha's photographic artist's books, most signed by the artist have come to Cornell University Library.

The artist's books were printed in small press runs of only a few hundred copies, and many early editions are difficult to find or survive only in poor condition. Ruscha called his artist's books "maybe the most powerful things I've ever done" and created more than a dozen, beginning in 1962 with the iconic Twentysix Gasoline Stations. "These particular items are becoming increasingly rare and valuable," said Katherine Reagan, the Ernest L. Stein curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. "It would have been nearly impossible for the library to acquire so many of these books, and it's a real gift for a collector to donate a set in such beautiful condition."

Ruscha, now 73, bridges several fields of conceptual art, pioneered the artist's book and has been embraced by artists in many fields. Professors of art and art history often teach Ruscha's work; one recent graduate student who studied the artist worked with the library to preserve some of Ruscha's artist's books. "Ed Ruscha is an essential model for art students precisely because his varied activities map the distinction between modern and contemporary art practice. He uses painting, photography, drawing, film, printmaking, bookmaking and conceptual modes to address the uncanny experience of consciousness," said Carl Ostendarp, assistant visiting professor of art.

Paul Anbinder worked closely with Fine Arts Librarian Martha Walker to place the Ruscha books in the archives. "It felt like a historic moment for me personally," Walker said. "It was one of those episodes in life that stick with you, because you're holding something that's a part of history incredibly valuable and truly culturally important."

With the new addition of Ruscha's early work, many of the artist's seminal works are represented in the library's holdings. His photographic works also highlight a new collecting focus for Cornell an exhibition this fall will feature the evolving technology and democratization of photography in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By Gwen Glazer,  Cornell Chronicle

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