The Empire of Ed Ruscha on Display at the National Gallery
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Icon of American contemporary art, Ed Ruscha comes to the National Gallery with a memorable series of paintings, on display for the first time in Europe after the debut at the Biennial of Venice in 2005. This would be enough to make it one of the most important dates of this summer in London. But there’s more: Course of Empire - the title of the work - is on display at the same time with the series of the same name by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), which originally inspired Ruscha to create his work. The same title for two series far different in style and subject matter, united by the idea of landscape as a metaphor for a civilisation and with a look towards the evolution of an empire. While the visions of Cole move around an imaginary civilisation with classical leanings, those of Ruscha focus on the transformations of the industrial buildings of Los Angeles, the city where the artist lived and worked for half a century - cement boxes with no aesthetic pretences, which, in just ten years, fell into the hands of large corporations or remain abandoned, their windows barred, while the phone booths at their feet are removed, signalling the advent of a new era. In the halls of the National Gallery, the images captured by Ruscha in two successive moments are presented on superimposed levels, just like the views of Canaletto which are on display just a few halls away, the black and white paintings are from the ‘90s; underneath, at eye-level, the same urban landscapes in “aged and accelerated” versions with the colours of contemporary reality.