Library Acquires Rare Works by Artist Edward Ruscha

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Cornell University Library Acquires Rare Works by Artist Edward Ruscha
New Gift Includes Early Iconic Artist’s Books

ITHACA, N.Y. (May 19, 2011) – Rare books created by artist Edward Ruscha have found a new home in Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Thanks to a donation from Paul ’60 and Helen Anbinder ’62, about 20 books — including 14 of Ruscha’s groundbreaking photographic artist’s books, most signed by the artist — are now available for researchers at Cornell.  

These paperback artist’s books were printed in small press runs of only a few hundred copies, and many early editions are now difficult to find or survive only in poor condition. Ruscha called his artist’s books “maybe the most powerful things I’ve ever done” and created more than a dozen, beginning in 1962 with the iconic “Twentysix Gasoline Stations.”

“These particular items are becoming increasingly rare and valuable,” said Katherine Reagan, Ernest L. Stein curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “It would have been nearly impossible for the Library to acquire so many of these books, and it’s a real gift for a collector to donate a set in such beautiful condition.”

Ruscha (1937- ) bridges several fields of conceptual art, incorporating photography, painting, typography, mixed media and more.  He pioneered the artist’s book, which presents original art in book format and has been embraced by countless artists in many fields.

Professors of art and art history often teach Ruscha’s work; one recent graduate student who studied the artist worked with the Library to help preserve some of Ruscha’s artist’s books.

“Ed Ruscha is an essential model for art students precisely because his varied activities map the distinction between Modern and Contemporary Art practice. He uses painting, photography, drawing, film, printmaking, bookmaking and conceptual modes to address the uncanny experience of consciousness,” said Carl Ostendarp, assistant visiting professor of art.

Paul Anbinder worked closely with Fine Arts Librarian Martha Walker to place the Ruscha books in the archives.

“It felt like a historic moment for me personally,” Walker said. “It was one of those episodes in life that stick with you, because you’re holding something that’s a part of history — incredibly valuable and truly culturally important.”

With the new addition of Ruscha’s early work, much of the artist’s seminal works are represented in the Library’s holdings. His photographic works also highlight a new collecting focus for Cornell; an exhibition scheduled for fall 2011 will feature the evolving technology and democratization of photography in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Gift includes early iconic artist’s books