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8 / Writing

OOF
OOF
Artist / Origin Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937)
Region: North America
Date 1962, reworked 1963
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 71 ½ in. (181.6 cm.), W: 67 in. (170.1 cm.)
Location The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo courtesy of Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Sylvia WolfDirector of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle

Additional Resources

Kotz, Liz. Words to Be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

Marshall, Richard D. Ed Ruscha. London: Phaidon, 2005.

The Museum of Modern Art Web site. http://www.moma.org.

Ruscha, Ed. Leave Any information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages. Edited by Alexandra Schwartz. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

Varnedoe, Kirk, and Adam Gopnik. High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, exhibition catalogue. New York: Museum of Modern Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

Whiting, Cécile. Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

The Whitney Museum of American Art Web site. http://www.whitney.org.

OOF

» Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937)

After attending art school in Oklahoma, Ed Ruscha relocated to Los Angeles in 1956.

He soon became associated with a group of young Pop artists attached to the Ferus Gallery in L.A. Although New York was the more important American art center at the time, these artists considered southern California more livable; they embraced, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, all of the clichés of L.A. living—the openness and freedom of car culture, the easy cool of surf culture, and the sex appeal of Hollywood. The sense of carefree, even brazen living that Ruscha and his circle self-consciously fostered is echoed in the motifs they adopted in their art.

In Ruscha’s case, especially, advertising was also a source of inspiration. Ruscha had started his career as a commercial artist and knew well the power of graphic arts to communicate. In his whimsical and amusing word paintings, he exploits advertising techniques to engage the viewer, while at the same time complicating and subverting the traditional goals of commercial communication. The artist’s interest is not just in words as language, but in words as visual objects in and of themselves.

In this piece, Ruscha cleverly takes a nonsense word—“oof”—and makes it communicate on a number of different levels. He plays with both the onomatopoeic quality of the word as well as its visual impact. “Oof” is the kind of word we associate with characters in a comic strip, who might utter the guttural sound while engaging in some kind of physical exertion or in reaction to, say, a punch in the stomach. Despite its connotations of physicality, however, “oof” is executed by Ruscha in plain, simple, entirely dispassionate block letters. As a result of this lettering, the word comes across as a product logo that might appear on a billboard, demanding the viewers’ attention. The irony, of course, is that there is no tangible product behind the sign. Ruscha has taken a lowbrow idea from popular culture and formalized it in an iconic six-foot-tall oil painting that takes delight in exploring the meaning of words and the boundaries of art.

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