Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip

Here is an excerpt from my paper on Ed Ruscha’s photo book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip. I’ve decided to include my formal analysis of the piece, since its aesthetic is fairly different from what we’ve been studying in class.

Dated 1966, Every Building on the Sunset Strip is Ruscha’s fourth self-published photo book. The volume is sized at a modest five by seven inches (closed) and contains a “cut and pasted” collection of images of the north and south sides of the Sunset Strip, arranged in order. The Sunset Strip is the name given to the one and a half mile long stretch of the 24 mile long Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. In keeping with its physical smallness, the book’s cover is minimalistic, neutral and unassuming. A white cover displays the book’s title in capital letters, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, in black square-serif type and boasts a semi-transparent glassine dust jacket for protection. Unlike the covers of Ruscha’s other photo books, on which the artist’s name and publication year are not printed, the cover of Every Building on the Sunset Strip reveals the artist’s name, Edward Ruscha, and publication year, 1966, in the same black typeface as the title. “The Sunset Strip” is printed on the book’s spine. These qualities lend the work a sense of professional polish, a clear-cut industrial finish. Between its simple binding, candid cover, and average print quality, the book had the appearance and aura of a cheap mass commodity and, at a $1 per copy production cost, it was (Richards, 37).
When opened and unfolded, Ruscha’s book presents all of the structures on the mile-and-a-half stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Hills and Laurel Canyon. The viewer is first confronted by a title page that reads “The Sunset Strip” in an all-capital industrial typeface. Because of the book’s cheap production quality, the viewer must be careful in unfolding the piece so to avoid tearing or snagging the folds. Ruscha created the twenty-four-foot-long double view by photographing both sides of the street with a 35 mm camera mounted to a slow-moving automobile (Getty Museum). Once developed, the photographs were then collaged and pasted in order, and the individual buildings were labeled with their respective house numbers. Despite Ruscha’s meticulous assembly, the images do not align perfectly with one another. Ruscha also indicates the streets that bisect the Sunset Strip in a font that resembles that found on the book’s cover and title page. Other than this, there is no other added text, thus nearly stripping the book of one of its defining qualities as a book. Moreover, Ruscha further turned his viewers’ preconceived notions of books on its head by displaying his work on one continuous page, rather than on pages that could be turned. By doing so, Ruscha provides his viewer with a condensed version of his own drive down the Strip. Given the length of the foldout, the viewer can only move forward along the strip, losing and gaining sight of the images as he walks, almost as if he too is driving. The viewer can only revisit certain images by turning around and walking in the opposite direction, much like a car would have to maneuver to turn, park, or change directions.
In presenting a “virtual cruise down the Strip,” as Ruscha once called it, the artist pays homage to a popular hangout and its commercial culture. Now part of West Hollywood, the Strip then lay in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, “which facilitated its development as a nightlife hotspot” (Getty Museum). By the mid-1960s, its nightclubs, including the then iconic Whisky a Go Go, were regularly featuring then up-and-coming bands such as the Byrds and the Doors (Getty Museum). These landmarks are not indicated by the artist’s addition of text, rather the images speak for themselves through their signage and billboards. In addition, upon closer inspection, it seems as though Ruscha had arranged the images to exclude certain subjects. More specifically here are no people present in any of the images, not only suggesting Ruscha’s strict emphasis on the Sunset Strip’s architecture (as conveyed by the book’s title), but also possibly explaining why some of the images do not align with one another. However, Ruscha does not edit out the cars that are parked along or driving down the strip. This decision is probably influenced by Ruscha’s longstanding fascination with cars and driving (the gas station being a prominent motif in Ruscha’s oeuvre of paintings and photo books), as well as the fact the car is a hallmark of American consumer culture, much like the billboard advertisements that pepper the images that comprise Every Building on the Sunset Strip (Auping and Prince).

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