The Walker Art Center is pleased to announce the upcoming presentation of a major retrospective on the work of American artist Allen Ruppersberg (b. 1944), who has not been the subject of a comprehensive US survey for over 30 years. Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968–2018 is an opportunity to experience the artist’s work with unprecedented breadth and depth. Many of the works included, from private and public collections in Europe and elsewhere, have never before been exhibited in US museums. On view at the Walker from March 17–July 29, 2018, the exhibition will travel to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles from February–May 2019.
One of conceptual art’s most rigorous and inventive practitioners, Ruppersberg is among the first generation of artists to espouse a method of working privileging ideas and process over traditional aesthetic objects. Born in Cleveland, Ruppersberg moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, where he became active in an emerging art scene led by artists such as John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha and others exploring the interface of language, image, and idea filtered through the lens of mass culture. By the mid-1970s, he was actively working between Los Angeles, New York, and Europe. Ruppersberg’s projects, wide-ranging in media and approach, have always had at their center a focus on the American vernacular—or, as the artist characterizes it, the “vocabulary of the ordinary”—its books, music, popular images, and ephemera. Perhaps more than any other artist of his generation, he has mined the nuances of culture through its visual details, unsung conventions and modes of the everyday, often welcoming the involvement of the viewer as a social participant, an aspect of his work that has had particular resonance with a younger generation of artists.
Featuring more than 120 works made over the past 50 years, the Walker exhibition includes Ruppersberg’s early assemblage sculptures, photo works that combine text and image, and his groundbreaking environments Al’s Cafe (1969) and Al’s Grand Hotel (1971), participatory projects that helped put Los Angeles on the map as a center for conceptual art. Since the 1970s, the artist has drawn from his vast archive of books, newspapers, records, films, and ephemera to create work ranging from meticulously detailed drawings of books to collages made from calendars to sculptures derived from vintage comics. The exhibition also includes a progression of the artist’s more recent, immersive installations featuring such materials as commercial advertising posters, large-scale photographs, and hand-painted signs.
The exhibition unfolds in chronological zones, or chapters, which chart the development of the artist’s work and thematic interests:
The exhibition includes a range of Ruppersberg’s earliest “Location Pieces,” made as site-specific projects or assemblages, that show his engagement with found objects and elements from nature. Also included are examples of the artist’s photo works, primarily made in and around Los Angeles between 1968–1974, in which he formed wry narrative vignettes using text and image. In the key early works Al’s Cafe (1969) and Al’s Grand Hotel (1971), he created viewer-activated spaces—in this case a functioning café with small assemblage sculptures served as “meals,” and later a hotel, complete with themed guest rooms and entertainment—that deftly combined sculpture, performance, and the prepared environment and can today be seen as progenitors of what became known in the 1990s as “relational aesthetics.”
Writing and Copying: 1974–1984
“From the very beginning,” Ruppersberg has noted, “I found that the things I was looking to make had as much to do with words as with pictures.” His affinity for novels, screenplays, newspaper articles, and other writing has informed much of his work since the mid-1970s. Some works depict books as objects, as in the painting Greetings from California (1972), where a book floats over the Hollywood hills. Other works use his own handwriting, as in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1974), a series of 20 canvases onto which he transcribed the entire text of Oscar Wilde’s novel in felt-tipped pen. Remainders (1991), is a sculptural work comprised of custom-made, imitation mass-produced books, displayed as if on a bookstore’s discount table; and Reading Standing Up (2004-2008) contains a tiled floor overlaid with a poem to be walked on and read at the same time.
The Archive: 1985–2003
“I am definitely a custodian of obscure and disappearing things of all sorts,” Ruppersberg has remarked, considering his process of translating the archival into art. The exhibition includes a range of works drawn from the artist’s vast repository of books, magazines, comic books, newspapers, posters, records, and films. This section features Cover Art (1985), a series of photo-collages made from vintage wall calendars; and Lectures and Film Screenings (1994), a walk-in installation that evokes a school hallway, with audible lectures behind its doors and a window into an “audio-visual room” that includes aging televisions playing instructional films. Large-scale installations in this section include Big Trouble (2010), a work based on the Uncle Scrooge McDuck comics of the 1950s; and The New Five Foot Shelf (2001), in which life-sized photographs of the artist’s former New York studio line the gallery walls, creating an immersive and unconventional self-portrait.
Many of Ruppersberg’s later works laud or memorialize figures—fellow artists, musicians (particularly from the history of rock and roll), poets, and novelists—crucial to his own development as an artist. In Rauschenberg (2014), a 44-foot-long collage comprised of cut and collaged letters, he transcribes Robert Rauschenberg’s New York Times obituary word-for-word, creating a poignant portrait. Several of his large-scale memorials are showcased in the exhibition, including The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsburg’s Howl by Allen Ruppersberg (Part 1-3) (2003/2005), a mural-scaled work in which the famous Beat poem is printed phonetically on vibrantly colored advertising posters (made at LA’s now-defunct Colby Poster Printing Co.).
New Commissioned Work
As part of his retrospective, Ruppersberg was invited to explore the museum’s library and archives to create a new piece. Over the course of several years, he periodically visited the library, poring over boxes of ephemera, including newspaper clippings, invitations, and printed material culled over the course of the Walker’s history. He assembled items of interest on the color photocopier, creating photo collages that fill the walls of the exhibition’s final gallery. Accompanying the environment are brightly painted furniture objects (derived from generic items traditionally created for stage sets) that the artist has constructed for visitors to engage with—or sit upon—as they explore the space.
Curator: Siri Engberg, Walker Senior Curator, Visual Arts
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Allen Ruppersberg currently lives and works in New York and Santa Monica, California. Recent solo exhibitions include Greene Naftali, New York (2017); Air de Paris, Paris (2016); Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles (2015); MFC-Michèle Didier, Paris (2014); Greengrassi, London (2014); Wiels, Brussels (2014); and The Art Institute of Chicago (2012). His work is in many public collections, including The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wl; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, Walker-designed catalogue, the most comprehensive volume to date on Ruppersberg’s work. Produced in close collaboration with the artist, the book features scholarly texts, as well as Ruppersberg’s own writing. Essays in the publication have been contributed by exhibition curator Siri Engberg, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Visual Arts; Thomas Crow, the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art and Associate Provost for the Arts at New York University; Matthew S. Witkovsky, the Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Aram Moshayedi, Curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. The publication also includes an illustrated chronology of the artist’s life and work, and a comprehensive exhibition history and bibliography. The volume, available in the Walker Shop and online at https://shop.walkerart.org/, is distributed internationally by D.A.P.
Following its presentation at the Walker, the exhibition will travel to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles from February–May 2019.
You & Me (2013)
Target Project Space
In conjunction with the exhibition, Ruppersberg’s You & Me (2013)—a public artwork first shown as a billboard next to New York’s High Line—will be featured in the Target Project Space, an exhibition space adjacent to the Walker’s restaurant Esker Grove.