17th Century – 20th Century

"17th Century – 20th Century" by Ed Ruscha

Every major exhibition is concerned with its connection to the town in which it takes place – public relations in the physical sense. On the one hand it is publicity and on the other an obligation to communicate with the urban community. For an exhibition of painting such as "Der zerbrochene Spiegel" (The Broken Mirror) from the Vienna Festival Exhibition 1993 it was difficult to step outside the protective precincts of the exhibition space into the context of everyday life. The intimate character of the medium of painting appears unsuitable to send signals to the outside world if one wants to retain the original, the legible channel, the sensitivity, in fact everything that is characteristic of a painting.

With Ed Ruscha's two large-scale pictures for the facades of the Kunsthalle, Wien (Hall of Art, Vienna) and Halle B in Vienna's Museums Quarter, museum in progress has used a pictorial work as the outpost and external representative of the art show. In the process some essential characteristics of painting have been kept and others have been modified or newly thought out within the context of the required purpose. The use of a technological innovation is a decisive factor. The work of art has simply been photographically reproduced but the latest picture production technology which is used for outdoors advertising has been applied. With Computer Aided Large Scale Imagery (CALSI) the motif is sprayed onto plastic panels by means of computer-controlled colour spray jets. The colours are mixed in the air so that there is no need for the scanning of conventional printing. By combining as many of these panels as one wants giant format pictures can be produced, 10 x 54 metres, Kunsthalle and 10 x 40 metres, Halle B. The fact that these are originals fits in with both the specific media economy of CALSI and the dual character of the work as a picture and a stationary installation. Both pictures act as visual and notional brackets between the two exhibition locations. Their size is adapted to match the dimensions of the buildings (Ruscha's drafts were extended by stretching to the required cinemascope format.) In this way the painting cloaks the architecture of both exhibition buildings. It masks the facades and creates a paradoxical and perplexing inversion of the normal generic hierarchy. Suddenly painting is found not inside but outside architecture and it takes the architecture under its wing, either as a dominant or a protective force depending upon how it is interpreted.

Ed Ruscha, who has painted billboards in his home state of Southern California since the sixties, develops his motifs formally, bearing in mind the effect which billboard advertising must achieve. The theme develops from the architecture of the building on which the works are mounted. The typography and content of exclamatory words against a panoramic sky evoke leitmotifs of the periods of the buildings construction, the 17th and 20th centuries. The places in which the works are seen correspond to their context. Whereas the picture of the 17th century is placed in an almost extra-territorial niche away from urban reality in an inner courtyard amongst baroque buildings, the companion place representing the present is set precisely where urban mobility is at maximum density, at the Karlsplatz crossroads where 70,000 cars pass every day.

With this location museum in progress has realised its demand for the take-over of public space by art. It is , however not only the passer-by whose eye is caught. Photographs on postcards of both temporarily transformed exhibition buildings have been enclosed with information material sent out about "The Broken Mirror" so that, besides the official function on site, they can further circulate within the private communication network of culture consumers.