July 1, 2013
By Calvin Tomkins
If you need cheering up, go to the Museum of Modern Art and look at a painting called “Oof,” by Edward Ruscha. The title and the subject are identical, just those three block letters, each one bigger than your head, in cadmium yellow on a background of cobalt blue. The six-foot-square canvas currently hangs in Gallery 19, on the fourth floor, along with Roy Lichtenstein’s “Girl with Ball,” Andy Warhol’s “Gold Marilyn Monroe” and “Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times,” and other Pop Art trailblazers of the early nineteen-sixties. “Oof” outdoes them all in its immediate, antic impact. This is not the kind of picture that reveals hidden depths on subsequent viewings. Everything is right there, every time, and it never fails to make me feel good.
Ruscha (pronounced Ru-shay) was twenty-six when he painted it, in 1963, three years out of art school, living in Los Angeles, and already hitting his stride. He had vetoed the spontaneous, loose-elbow, Abstract Expressionist style that still prevailed at the Chouinard Art Institute, where he studied in the late nineteen-fifties, shortly before it became the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). “They would say, Face the canvas and let it happen, follow your own gestures, let the painting create itself,” he later recalled in an interview, but that didn’t pan out for him. Ruscha had seen, reproduced in the magazine Print, a Jasper Johns collage painting called “Target with Four Faces,” and it had opened up a new range of possibilities. He decided that whatever he was going to do in art would have to be “completely premeditated.” Read More .