Over the course of his presidency, Barack Obama gifted Ed Ruscha’s “Column with Speed Lines” print multiple times to world leaders. The classical aesthetic of the architectural detail with the linear suggestions of movement seems to balance two aspects of American culture, the weight of the republic and the speed of the open road.
The work is one of 30 pieces that Ruscha and his wife, Danna Ruscha, donated last year to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (FJJMA) at the University of Oklahoma (OU). Recently, selections from the donation were installed in the museum, alongside the 1990 painting “No Man’s Land” that FJJMA acquired in 2013 through a public campaign and as a partial gift from the Ruschas.
“This gift enables us to do something that I think is really important for this museum, which is not only to showcase what is going on in contemporary art, but to find Oklahoma’s place in it,” Mark White, director of FJJMA, told Hyperallergic.
The art donated from the Ruschas’ private collection includes not just pieces by Ruscha, but also from Joe Goode, George Herms, and Jerry McMillan. Ruscha, Goode, and McMillan especially have this fusion of disparate American influences in their distinct visuals, as all three grew up in Oklahoma before journeying out west to California for much of their careers.
“I think Ruscha’s work, in part, is influenced by the sort of road culture that he came to experience here,” White stated. “Oklahoma being a fairly large state and urban centers being so far apart, you have to drive everywhere, and that’s as true back in the 1960s as it is now.”
Road signs, speedometers, and the lonely gas station recur in Ruscha’s prints, paintings, and mixed media. Meanwhile, the FJJMA donation features a portfolio of Goode’s tornado images. Their clouds of Sumi ink often represent real Tornado Alley storms, and consider the unpredictability and status of this Western icon. Fittingly, Goode will be the 2017 juror for the National Weather Center Biennale at OU.
“We’re hoping that this [donation] will lead to some future collaborations with these former Oklahomans who have really established themselves as major forces within contemporary art,” White said.