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Baltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish
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About the item

When Baltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish premiered in Ed Ruscha’s first exhibition of bird paintings held at the legendary Ferus Gallery during the winter of 1965, Artforum’s review concluded, “Without searching for meanings one can respond enthusiastically to the humor of the pictures… One feels it might be a disservice to this work to ‘figure it out.’ Its beguilements are so rewarding as they are.” (William Wilson, "Edward Ruscha, Ferus Gallery," Artforum, 1966, p. 13)\nBaltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish marks a crucial moment in the artist’s career, as the early bird paintings are considered the first works to replace words with images. Of this phenomenon, Anne Livet writes, “In these painting we are given images of birds, not real birds but generic birds… floating on a flat ground. In other words, rather than the word ‘cardinal,’ we are being given the image of the cardinal, or, more generally, we are being presented with birds as words.” (Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveling, The Works of Edward Ruscha, 1982, p. 17)\nIn 1982 and on the occasion of Ed Ruscha’s major retrospective—an event that highlighted Ruscha’s most important works, including the present work—art critic Dave Hickey visited the Los Angeles-based artist at his home and studio. In an attempt to more fully understand Ruscha’s attraction to strange imagery, Hickey asked the artist, “Usually, though, or at least recently, your work is the title isn’t it?"  To which Ruscha replied, “Mostly, although I don’t think of it like that.” (Ibid., p. 28) Indeed, when it comes to Ruscha’s paintings, looking and reading are not mutually exclusive activities. Quite the reverse, they are one integrated and enjoyable experience; Ruscha’s legendary word paintings, like OOF (1963) and Adios (1967), are prime examples of Ruscha's varied treatment of language as a character in his work. OOF exhibits the hard-edged lettering of published  or advertising text against a solid blue background, while Adios emerges from pools of liquid letters with errant drips against its tonal background.\nRuscha’s particular brand of image-word play unquestionably conjures the whimsy of Belgian Surrealist René Magritte. In much the same way that Magritte’s tour de force Ceci n’est pas une pipe (1928-29) is a self-proclaimed image, the titles of Ruscha’s bird paintings elucidate the image presented—in this case, we are assured, whether or not we initially believe our eyes, that this is indeed a depiction of a bird “securing” fish. Interestingly, the Surrealist facets of Baltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish can be directly attributed to a strong presence of European Surrealism in Los Angeles during the late 1950s. At that time, when Ruscha first arrived in the city, the young artist attended exhibitions of Max Ernst, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy and Magritte which were held mainly at the Copley Gallery. Livet recounts, “No doubt Ruscha absorbed some of these influences, but… I believe that Ruscha’s relationship with the Surrealists is more fraternal than filial. Both artistic strategies derive from the Symbolist tradition, but whereas the iconography of the Surrealists derives from the language of the subconscious, Ruscha’s iconography arises from the intersection of cultural and autobiographical metaphor.” (Ibid.) Indeed, Ruscha’s evasion of the Surrealist label is in keeping with his successful dodging of most classifications designated to his peers. Remarkably, he remained neutral amid major movements, including Minimalism, Conceptualism and even Pop Art (the latter, despite his inclusion in the Pasadena Art Museum's New Paintings of Common Objects of 1962, the first museum exhibition of American Pop Art).\nBaltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish exhibits a wonderful strangeness that further frustrates ready classification. Here, quite curiously, a small nut and fruit-eating bird is pictured in possession of an absurdly big fish—why? Why, moreover, do the two appear floating so close to the left edge of this expansive canvas? The pictorial situation is perplexing, in much the same manner as the other paintings collectively comprising Ruscha’s charming bird series. These works, which include titles such as Angry Because It’s Plaster, Not Milk (1965) and Robin, Pencils (1965), are marvelously head-scratching. In them, as in the present work, flatly-rendered birds drift aimlessly within monotone canvases. They may forage, visibly seeking worms, though amusingly they only catch yellow No. 2 pencils. As if plucked from the pages of an ornithologist’s handbook, the oriole in Baltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish is precisely executed and void of ornamentation (it is worthwhile to note, a fantastic preparatory sketch of this piece appears in the artist’s notebook from May 1965). Its striking and brightly colored markings are matter-of-factly denoted, as Ruscha—like Audubon before him—presents us with necessary basic information: orioles have sturdy bodies, pointy beaks, long skinny legs and orange-yellow, black and white coloring. Yet, Ruscha’s bird hovers upon a solid and flattened lush green background, as if it was simply pasted over the equally illustrative depiction of the freshwater fish.\nSuch is the genius of Baltimore Oriole Securing Freshwater Fish: despite its literary quality, personal interpretation remains its central characteristic, thus ensuring diverse and potentially wildly imaginative readings. Ruscha’s brother Paul, for one, inventively wonders, “Are we to guess that all this emptiness that surrounds the bird suggests some benign action, freezing the oriole in its arrest of the offending fish who had no business in this scene anyway? This bird is like a museum guard doing his job as he disables a fishy-acting, deranged art-slasher.” (Exh. Cat., New York, C&M Arts, Ed Ruscha: Birds, Fish and Offspring, 2002, n. p.)\nSigned and dated 1965 on the reverse; titled and dated 1965 on the stretcher
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Ed Ruscha

condition

This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a brown wood strip frame. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

59 x 55 in. 149.8 x 139.7 cm.

exhibition

Los Angeles, Ferus Gallery, Edward Ruscha, November 1965 Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Paintings, Drawings and Other Works by Edward Ruscha, June - July 1976, p. 16, illustrated San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Works of Edward Ruscha, March 1982 - May 1983, cat. no. 16, pl. 32,  p. 69, illustrated in color New York, C&M Arts, Ed Ruscha: Birds, Fish and Offspring, April - June 2002, cat. no. 5, n.p., illustrated in color Missoula, Montana Museum of Art and Culture, The Collectors Art, January - March, 2007

literature

William Wilson, "Edward Ruscha, Ferus Gallery," Artforum, vol. 4, no. 5, January 1966, p. 13, illustrated Henry Hopkins, "West Coast Style," Art Voices, vol. 5, no. 4, Fall 1966, p. 68, illustrated Patricia C. Johnson, "Spam What Am," Houston Chronicle, January 23, 1983, p. 14, illustrated Susie Kalil, "The Works of Edward Ruscha," Houston Post, January 23, 1983, p. 23F Pat Poncy, ed., Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings: Volume One: 1958-1970, New York, 2003, p. 185, illustrated in color

provenance

Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Washington D.C. Christie's, New York, November 18, 1981, Lot 51 Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Signed and dated 1965 on the reverse; titled and dated 1965 on the stretcher

consignmentDesignation

Property from a Private American Collection

creator_nationality_dates

B.1937


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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