Contemporary Art is OK

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha

Although born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ed Ruscha began his artistic career in Oklahoma. Literally. In 1956, at the age of 19, Ruscha set out on Route 66 from Oklahoma City (where he had lived for 15 formative years) to Los Angeles. It was the first in a series of drives that took him past the sites that would form the basis of his 1962 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (above, middle) and reappear in his later images of hotels, parking lots, swimming pools and the grizzled glamour of the Sunset Strip.

An exhibition opening today at the Price Tower Arts Center proves that Oklahoma’s significance in the contemporary art world goes far beyond that tidbit of Ruschian trivia. The state has also bred and/or trained such artists as David Salle, Joe Goode, Larry Clark, Joe Andoe and Carolyn Brady. “Out of Oklahoma: Contemporary Artists From Ruscha to Andoe" features about 35 of these artists’ paintings (including Ruscha’s “Black Hollywood" [1984]), sculpture, photographs and works on paper in an exhibition that ranges from Pop Art, abstraction and minimalism to photorealism and new figurative painting.

According to Richard P. Townsend, who curated the exhibition, the show “reveals a little known-and little suspected-aspect of later 20th-century American art" while spotlighting Oklahoma’s “innovative spirit and pioneer attitude." It’s a fitting way to celebrate the state’s centennial.

The Price Tower (above, right) is a perfect venue for a show that could be subtitled “Who knew?" It is the only skyscraper ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright, best known for his low-slung “Prairie Houses" and the seashell swirls of New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Commissioned by oil and gas pipeline developer Harold C. Price, the 19-story, 221-foot tower was completed in 1956. Wright called it “the tree that had escaped the crowded forest." It was named a national historic landmark earlier this year.

Visitors to the museum are invited to “Spend the night with Frank Lloyd Wright"—in one of the 21 rooms at the Inn at Price Tower. Hotel guests gain a unique appreciation of Wright’s abiding love of triangles, which makes for a particularly interesting bathroom experience. As Ed Ruscha once said, “Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head."

“Out of Oklahoma" is on view at the Price Tower Arts Center through September 16. It then travels to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at University of Oklahoma from September 29 through January 6, 2008.

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