RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
09 November 2007
Ed Ruscha. Royal Road Test 1967.
"Good art should elicit a response of 'Huh? Wow! ' as opposed to 'Wow! Huh? ' Edward Ruscha (Ed-Werd Rew-Shay.)
Edward Ruscha, Patrick Blackwell & Mason Williams. ROYAL ROAD TEST. Los Angeles, 1967.
Current Selling Prices
ARTIST'S BOOK / CONCEPTUAL ART
I first saw Ruscha's work when staying in L.A. in 1975. Some friends were renting a studio from the artist on Western Avenue and Sunset. I never saw him but there were a few of his little artist's books kicking around and occasionally one saw his Rolls Royce --a late 1950s Burke's Law job with the USA plates over the British plates which was the Los Angeles style of the time. The books were amusing and stylish - conceptual art that also seemed to mock conceptual art. I have read since that Ruscha is a fan of Duchamp. Most people know his gas station and parking lot books and, of course, his 1966 'Every Building on the Sunset Strip' but 'Royal Road Test', a collaborative effort is less celebrated and possibly more interesting.
Ruscha books are hardly asleep pricewise, and it is hard to find them anywhere undervalued, every two bit scout looks for them. They are constantly traded on Ebay. At the moment, in fact, they seem overvalued as they have risen on the great photo tide that has floated every 'photobook'. It is hard to see them with original eyes. I guess the books I saw in L.A. were all signed and inscribed but I was unaware of them having any value.
Basically some time in 1966 the artist Ed Ruscha, his buddy writer and musician Mason Williams ('Classical Gas') and the photographer Patrick Blackwell took Highway 91 out of Los Angeles into the desert in a a 1963 Buick LaSabre. Getting up to 90 miles per hour on a deserted road with Ed Ruscha driving, Mason Williams (designated thrower) ejected a Royal Typewriter from the window and Patrick Blackwell photographed the incident including shots of the scattered parts and the keys. As I recall there is one shot off a letter draped from a cactus in the desert scrub. The core of the book is a photographic examination of the wreckage of the typewriter strewn over many square yards; it is done in an ironic, deadpan Consumer Report, forensic documentary style with times and wind speed etc., There is a vague suspicion that one or two shots may have been set up or 'improved'. One cataloguer notes that it 'is all done with a species of quasi-scientific gravitas...' A great and influential 'artist's book' - one day another trio may retrace their steps and throw another Royal, or possibly a Dell, into the Californian desert. Or the now grizzled threesome will do it again like a Crosby, Stills and Nash reunion concert.
VALUE? One signed copy of the first on the web at $3000, unsigned early reprints at about a tenth of that. A nice first now has to be a four figure dollar book. The top Ruscha item is his first book 'Twentysix Gasoline Stations' (1962) which at auction has made $16000 unsigned and sits on the web (signed) at the fuckoff price of $35000. You can buy good Ruscha wall art for way less. At that kind of price the fun and the whimsy are over, however it is not unthinkable that such a price could be achieved. Ruscha's books can mostly be bought as late reprints for bearable amounts. Photo below from his 1974 work 'Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles.'