Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire

Ed Ruscha: Course of Empire


Over the span of his six-decade career, Ed Ruscha has created an elegant, stylised vision of an overlooked modern American landscape of petrol stations, highways and industrial units: initially associated with the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, Ruscha incorporates commercial art elements into his paintings, prints and photography – for example, typography, graffiti and billboards.

In 2005, Ruscha represented the USA at the 51st Venice Biennale, addressing the theme of ‘progress, or the course of progress’. He presented 5 black and white urban landscapes of Los Angeles, made in 1992 and displayed these with new colour versions of these same sites, focusing on mundane changes such as signage or the complete demolition of old structures.

Ruscha’s ten-painting installation evoked Thomas Cole’s epic five-painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834–6). Unlike Cole’s grandiose vision of the rise and fall of a classical civilisation, Ruscha’s Course of Empire is a seemingly barren, simplified vision: preoccupied with the urban landscape of Los Angeles – utilitarian structures with no pretension to beauty but redolent of economic might and global reach, their mundane forms evolving in response to material needs.

This catalogue includes a new essay by British author Tom McCarthy, whose writings also explore themes of cyclical change, repetition and the search for authenticity in a relentlessly modern and packaged environment.


Tom McCarthy is a writer and artist whose novels has been widely translated. His first novel, Remainder, won the 2008 Believer Book Award: later novels C and Satin Island were shortlisted for Booker Prize (2010 and 2015). Daniel F. Herrmann is Curator of Special Projects and Christopher Riopelle is Curator of Post-1800 Paintings, both at the National Gallery.

Product Code 1046495
Authors Tom McCarthy, Daniel F. Herrmann, Christopher Riopelle
Colour Illustrations 28
Dimensions 21 x 27 cm (landscape)
Format Hardback
ISBN 9781857096323
Pages 48
Published June 2018
Publisher National Gallery Company Ltd
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