Word/Play: Prints, Photographs, and Paintings by Ed Ruscha

Organized by Joslyn Art Museum

Word/Play is the first major exhibition to feature internationally-renowned artist Ed Ruscha in his home state of Nebraska. Born in Omaha in 1937, Ruscha lived in the city for several years before his family moved to Oklahoma City. In 1956, he relocated to Los Angeles to study commercial art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now called CalArts), and quickly became a fixture in the highly energized West Coast art scene. An important early figure in Conceptual Art, Ruscha demonstrated a talent for deftly combining imagery and text during his student years. At turns poignant, provocative, and confounding, Ruscha’s use of the written word has remained a signature element of his work throughout his career.

This exhibition brings together prints, photographs, and artist books dating from the 1960s through 2015, complemented by a selection of major paintings. Rarely seen photographs reveal the urban landscapes that inspired many of Ruscha’s most well-known prints and paintings, including images of nondescript apartment buildings, gas stations, and the streets of Los Angeles. Mining Ruscha’s incisive reading of the physical and anthropological landscapes of Southern California and the American West, this exhibition highlights his capacity to ennoble the mundane and cleverly transform it into the extraordinary.

What's pictured: Ed Ruscha, Clarence Jones, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 124 inches, Phillip Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art, © Ed Ruscha

In the 1990s, Ruscha began using mountains as backdrops for slogan-like words and phrases. Depicted as if seen from below so that they tower over the viewer, these icy peaks appear dramatic, yet for Ruscha they are merely pictorial clichés. Often, the text in these paintings and prints are entirely unrelated to the sublime topographies that the artist so carefully renders. Ambiguity has long been one of Ruscha’s most important creative tools, leading to what has been called the “huh?” effect of his work. By generating more questions than answers, Ruscha invites viewers to challenge relationships between language and images and to look at a common world in an uncommon way.

More About Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha: Buildings and Words (below) is a short-length documentary, commissioned by Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, about Ruscha’s extraordinary body of work. The film is written and directed by Felipe Lima and narrated by Owen Wilson.

Hours, Tickets, & Tours

Word/Play is open during all regular Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm; late 'til 8 pm on Thursday. Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Word/Play is a ticketed exhibition:
General public adults: $10
(Thursday evening pricing, 4-8 pm: $5 for general public adults)
$5 for college students with a valid ID (tickets for those with a UNMC student ID are free)
Youth ages 17 and younger: Free
Joslyn Members: Free (Not a member? Click here to join now!)

All visitors, including members, must obtain a ticket for entrance to the exhibition (no reservations necessary).

Programs with visits to the exhibition will be priced accordingly for general public adults. Docent-guided tours of the exhibition are offered on select days. Check the calendar of events for exact tour dates. Word/Play ticket pricing applies.

Mobile Word/Play

Free Wi-Fi is available in all Joslyn galleries. Bring your web-enabled mobile device or borrow one of ours to access the dual language Word/Play mobile tour. Presented by Joslyn and OnCell. Call (402) 881-3601 to access the tour in English; (402) 972-4031 for the Spanish language tour. Tour access information also available on site and on the Museum's mobile tour page.

Exhibition-Related Events & Programs

Friday, February 2; 5:30–8 pm
Members Preview Reception with Ed Ruscha

Monday, February 5; Noon–3 pm
Members Day

Thursday, February 22 @ 6:30 pm (cash bar opens at 5 pm)
Word/Play Curator Gallery Talk

Saturday & Sunday, February 24 & 25
Free College Weekend
During regular public hours (10 am to 4 pm) on Saturday and Sunday, February 24 & 25, anyone with a valid college ID will receive free tickets to Word/Play.

Thursday, March 22 @ 6:30 pm
Framing the Flame: Art That Ignites

Thursday, April 5 @ 6:30 pm
Annual Lusk Lecture: Los Angeles Times art critic, Christopher Knight
Miss this year's Lusk Lecture? Watch it on youtube!

Thursday, April 12 @ 6 pm
Word as Image • Image as Word: Celebrating Letterpress Poetry

Sunday, April 15 @ 2 pm
Word/Play Curator Gallery Talk

Friday, April 27 @ 7 pm
Tipsy Doodle!

Thursday, May 3 @ 6 PM
An Evening of Dance featuring UNO's The Moving Company