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We’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These short recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Getty Research Institute Senior Research Specialist Zanna Gilbert reflects on the empty streets of Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles project, begun in 1966. To learn more about this artwork, visit:  https://www.getty.edu/research/special_collections/notable/ruscha.html.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every Tuesday.

Listen to the full series of short reflections here.

Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings on Tuesdays over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
ZANNA GILBERT: I’m Zanna Gilbert from the curatorial department at the Getty Research Institute. And one of the first artworks that crossed my mind when we entered into lockdown was Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles project.
In 1966 Ed Ruscha had driven along the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood with motorized camera mounted on the back of his pickup truck. The camera was capturing photos of the buildings on each side of the street, like a kind of analog Google streetview. He used the images to create his artist book every building on the Sunset Strip. This was a 27-foot long accordion folded record of the iconic Hollywood Street. Having devised this method for documenting sunset reshaping his collaborators continue to document various LA streets, and they revisited the streets periodically over the next six decades and they continue doing this until today. They built an archive that now totals over half a million images and constitutes just an incredible record of how LA has changed over time.
On one of the first days of lockdown, one of the rainy days at the beginning, I drove the entire length of Sunset Boulevard with my family. This was research that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but would never have done under normal traffic conditions. We began at the beach in Malibu and then drove through Brentwood towards the street signs of a deserted Sunset Strip. And then through little Armenia, Thai Town, and then ending where it turns into Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
Moving along the streets, eerily empty and almost devoid of people, I felt I was almost inhabiting flow Ruscha’s images. He’d always planned his shoots in the early hours of the morning so there’d be less traffic. Both because he didn’t want people in them. And because the slow speed of the pickup truck, then wouldn’t hold up the impatient, LA drivers.
Meditating on these images now, which echoes a looming post-apocalyptic feel of many of these paintings seems especially apt. The streets that were first empty by the pandemic are now, filled up again with protest marches and the righteous rage after the murder of George Floyd by the police.
Since the 1960s, Ruscha has been one of the artists that offers new ways of seeing Los Angeles, and the evidence we have from all the years of Ruscha’s streets photos, tells us so many stories about the city, about globalization gentrification and inequality and real estate speculation. I see Ruscha’s vast archive and history of LA as an important opportunity to reflect on the future and think about what our alternatives are now.
CUNO: To learn more about Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles photographs, a project he began in 1966, click the link in this episode’s description.

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. As we all adapt to working and living under these new and unusual circumstances, we’ve asked curators from the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about righ...

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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