Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a thin paperback that resembles an industrial manual of the 1960s, is often considered to be the first modern artist’s book. The book is exactly what the title describes: 26 images of gasoline stations along Route 66 between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha was living and working in Los Angeles in the 1960s and frequently traveled the route between the two cities to visit his family.
“I just had a personal connection to that span of mileage between Oklahoma and California,” Ruscha told NPR earlier this year on the 50th anniversary of the book. “It just, it kind of spoke to me.”
In an interview with Avalanche magazine in 1973 he said, “I’d always wanted to make a book of some kind. When I was in Oklahoma I got a brainstorm in the middle of the night to do this little book called Twentysix Gasoline Stations. I knew the title. I knew it would be photographs of twenty-six gasoline stations.”
So, Ruscha documented gas stations along that route in black-and-white photographs and labeled them with their locations, from “Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles” to “‘Flying A, Kingman, Arizona” to the final image “Fina, Groom, Texas.”
Ruscha published the book at age 26 in a run of 400 numbered copies in April 1963. Though it was the same year as Ruscha’s first solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the book didn’t initially receive a warm reception. In a 1963 letter, the Library of Congress declined to add a copy to their collection, noting the book’s “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information.”
The book gradually acquired cult status in the 1960s, and a second edition was published in 1967 and a third in 1969. Surviving first editions of the book are rare.
Ruscha’s archive, which was recently acquired by the Ransom Center, includes snapshots of the gas stations, Ruscha’s notes about the project, the Library of Congress letter, and an advertisement with the headline “REJECTED Oct. 2, 1963 by the Library of Congress.”
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ruscha moved to Oklahoma City in 1941 and to Los Angeles in 1956 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute. He had his first solo exhibition in 1963 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. In the years since, he has been widely recognized for his paintings, drawings, photographs, and artist’s books.
Ruscha is known for art that often manipulates words and phrases in unconventional ways. Ruscha’s art is deeply influenced by his love of books and language, as reflected by his frequent use of palindromes, unusual word pairings and rhyme. He has often combined the cityscape of Los Angeles with vernacular language, and his early work as a graphic artist continues to strongly influence his aesthetic and thematic approach.
Ruscha’s archive comprises five personal journals filled with preliminary sketches and notes; materials related to the making of his artist’s book of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (2010); notes, photographs, correspondence and contact sheets relating to the creation and publication of his many other artist’s books, including Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), and Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965); and materials relating to his short films Miracle (1975) and Premium (1971); his portfolios; and several art commissions.
Once processed and cataloged, the materials will be accessible in the Ransom Center’s reading room to students, researchers and the public.
The purchase of the archive was primarily supported by generous donors, including Michael and Jeanne Klein, the Marlene Nathan Meyerson Foundation, Mark Wawro, and Melanie Gray. The University provided additional support for the acquisition.
Ruscha, who continues to live and work in Los Angeles, donated a substantial portion of the archive to the Ransom Center, including a complete set of his artist’s books, print portfolios, 16 mm reels of his films, and a complete set of exhibition posters.
A small selection of materials from the archive will be on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through December 1.
The digital collections platform provides access to the Ransom Center’s collections for students, scholars and members of the public who are unable to visit the Center. It also provides a way for visitors to access fragile materials or collections that exist in challenging formats, such as personal effects and costumes. One example is a collection of glass plate negatives that documents theater performances in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The fragile collection was previously inaccessible, but the negative plates were digitized and converted to positive images for the digital collection.
Visitors to the Ransom Center’s website can search within collections or across collections, often revealing related materials. Additional tools provide users with the ability to virtually flip through books, enlarge images and compare page images with accompanying transcripts, which are text-searchable.
Collections are being added on an ongoing basis, and planned digitization projects include the photographs of nineteenth-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and photographs and ephemera from the Fred Fehl dance collection.
This project was made possible with funding from the Booth Heritage Foundation.
Leslie Delassus worked as a graduate intern in public services at the Ransom Center in 2005–2006, and she returned to the Center in 2013 as a dissertation fellowship recipient to conduct research in the Dawn collection. Below, she explores Dawn’s working method and approach to special effects.
Norman O. Dawn was a relatively obscure yet historically significant early special effects cinematographer, inventor, artist, and motion picture director, writer, and producer. The image above is an example of the 164 cards in the Dawn collection that illustrate special effects processes.
Produced by Dawn himself during the 1970s, these 16×20-inch cards explicate the process of special effects Dawn produced during his career as a filmmaker, dating back to as early as 1907. Between 1907 and 1951, Dawn created more than 800 special effects for more than 80 films, ranging from his early non-narrative “scenic” films to his subsequent narrative films. All of these effects consist of the juxtaposition of two or more images, a process Dawn refers to as “image manipulation.” The cards include artifacts from the production process including oil, watercolor, pencil, and ink sketches; film clips; frame enlargements; camera records; and production stills. The cards also contain ancillary documents such as movie reviews, advertisements, other trade press clippings, and sections from textbooks and pages from an unpublished autobiography.
This wealth of materials visually traces the history of cinematic special effects, situating their development within film scholar Tom Gunning’s notion of the “cinema of attractions,” a much earlier period vastly different from popular narrative film. The cinema of attractions was a more sensational cinema that appealed to audiences through overwhelming spectacle and images of the unfamiliar associated with tourism.
The card above explains the production process of the footage Dawn shot for Hale’s Tours of the World (1907), a cinema of attraction par excellence. Combining spectacle and tourism, Hale’s Tours was an amusement park ride set in a trolley, which simulated the sensations of a train ride as riders watched films shot from the point of view of a train in motion. In his footage for the ride, Dawn deployed arguably his most famous special effect innovation, the glass-shot, in which he shot a live scene through a large glass painting. In this particular shot, Dawn juxtaposed footage of members of an indigenous community in Mexico with a painting of ancient Mayan ruins situated in the background, thus combining two spatially distinct objects of tourism into one view. With his glass-shot, Dawn raised the stakes of spectacle by transporting his audience to a place otherwise inaccessible, one only possible through special effects cinema.
Significantly, images of spectacle and tourism resurface in Dawn’s fiction films, which are largely underrepresented in film history. While Dawn produced effects for—and in many cases directed—over 80 films, most of these films no longer exist. The few that remain reveal the way in which Dawn’s work in early cinema, like Hale’s Tours, influenced his narrative filmmaking. Often shot in remote and unfamiliar locations, such as the Arctic tundra, these films emphasize spectacle and tourism as integral narrative elements. Much like the audience of the attraction film, the protagonist of these films is overwhelmed by spectacular locations and charged with the task of navigating this unfamiliar terrain. This emphasis on spectacle over narrative links Dawn’s fiction films not only to the much earlier period of the attraction but also to the high-budget blockbuster of contemporary cinema. In this sense, Dawn’s protagonists have much in common with archetypal figures of New Hollywood cinema such as Indiana Jones, thus bridging the gap between the distant past of early cinema and the present moment of popular film.
James Salter, author of A Sport and a Pastime and the acclaimed new novel All That Is, will discuss his life and work with Professor Thomas F. Staley tonight at 7 p.m. at the Ransom Center. Salter’s archive resides at the Center. Below, he updates Cultural Compass on what he’s been up to this year.
Following a long period of writing, I’ve finally gotten around to some reading.
I’ve been reading a book, not yet published, about the artist-heroes in the works of Thomas Mann. There are so many magnificent German names and cultural references that I decided to read Doctor Faustus in the Vintage edition, or maybe The Magic Mountain. I like the intoxicated feeling of having a great number of things I want to read and the excitement of beginning. A French writer, Jacques Bonnet, in a book called Phantoms on the Bookshelf writes about the pleasure and great burden of owning a huge collection of books, that is to say books made of paper. He likes to surround himself physically with books that over the years have come to fill every available foot of wall space in his house. He likes to be able to see all the books, let his eye fall on them and when reading them feel the pages in his hand. It was in Bonnet’s book that I came across the names of many writers, usually European, I had never heard of, but also some Japanese writers including one named Kafu Nagai who had lived in the United States for a time, wrote about the Floating World, and sounded interesting. I’ve always liked Japanese writers, not only the famous ones but also some little known, such as Masuji Ibuse and Motojiro Kajii.
I ordered a book by Kafu Nagai and it arrived, but before I could begin reading it, an obituary appeared in the paper a few days ago for Marcel Reich-Ranicki who had died in Berlin at the age of 93. I am 88, so I felt a kinship. Reich-Ranicki was the pre-eminent German literary critic, born in Poland, Jewish, who miraculously survived the war and devoted his life to the literature of a people he never stopped fearing. He had written a highly praised autobiography, which I learned had been translated. I looked it up on Amazon. It was for sale for $5,700. Instead of pursuing that astounding discovery or misprint, I settled for ordering another of his books instead, Thomas Mann and His Family, six children, several of them becoming writers themselves, two of them committing suicide. I am half way through it, and as soon as I finish must get back to Nagai.
To complement The University of Texas at Austin’s new James Turrell piece The Color Inside opening on campus this week, a selection of books and artworks associated with Turrell are on view at the Harry Ransom Center in the third-floor Director’s Gallery. Several events are planned around campus today and tomorrow to celebrate the opening of the new Skyspace on the roof of the Student Activity Center.
Today at noon
Conversation with James Turrell
Friday, October 18, 12-1pm
Student Activity Center Ballroom
Artist James Turrell and Lynn Herbert, former senior curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, discuss The Color Inside, a Skyspace on the rooftop garden of the Student Activity Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Free and no reservations required; limited seating available.
Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Tours of The Color Inside, the Blanton Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Center
Various locations on campus
The tour begins on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center with a music performance by a string quartet from the Butler School of Music inside the Skyspace. The tour will walk to the Blanton to view a large-scale aquatint by Turrell entitled First Light, Plate B1, which is on display through mid-December. The tour concludes at the Ransom Center with James Turrell: Deep Sky, an exhibition of seven aquatints created by Turrell in collaboration with the publisher Peter Blum Editions, on display through December 13. The tour will last between 60 and 90 minutes.
Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Inside the Skyspace, rooftop of the Student Activity Center
On opening day, Landmarks presents three unique performances of Lightscape, a new composition by University of Texas graduate student, assistant instructor, and award-winning composer Joel Love. Landmarks commissioned Love to create a composition inspired by The Color Inside. Lightscape will be performed by Butler School of Music students Yunji Lee, Chloe Park, Andrew Haduong, and Mic Vredenburgh. It will also stream live online.
Share your experience on social media with the #UTskyspace hashtag.
The Harry Ransom Center is raising $50,000 in 75 days for the Center’s 2014 exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind. This Hollywood classic premiered in 1939 and will mark its 75th anniversary in 2014.
Film producer David O. Selznick’s 1939 epic film Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy before a single frame was shot. Based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, the film’s depictions of race, violence, and cultural identity in the South during the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction continue to both compel and trouble audiences around the world.
The exhibition will reveal surprising new stories about the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood’s Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released.
The exhibition will include over 300 original items from the Selznick archive housed at the Ransom Center, including behind-the-scenes photographs, storyboards, correspondence, production records, audition footage, and fan mail. The exhibition will also feature gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as the beautiful and ambitious Scarlett O’Hara. These recently conserved costumes will be displayed together for the first time in more than 25 years.
Your support will provide funds for outreach, additional docent-led tours, a published exhibition catalog, and complementary programming and presentations. Donors will be acknowledged on the Ransom Center’s website and receive the following:
$10-$499: Commemorative save-the-date postcard with an image from the Ransom Center’s collection.
$500-$999: Complimentary Ransom Center membership for one year, at the dual level, which includes two tickets to the exhibition opening party.
$1,000-$4,999: Complimentary copy of the exhibition catalog.
$5,000+: Special curators’ tour for up to six people.