TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS

Ed Ruscha

Twentysix Gasoline Stations is the first artist's book by the American pop artist Ed Ruscha. Published in April 1963 on his own imprint National Excelsior Press, it is often considered to be the first modern Artist's book and has become famous as a major influence on artist's book culture, especially in America. The book reproduces 26 photographs of gasoline stations next to captions indicating their brand and location. From the first service station, 'Bob's Service' in Los Angeles where Ruscha lived, the book follows a journey back to Oklahoma City where the artist had grown up, and where his mother still lived. The last image is of a Fina Gasoline Station in Groom, Texas, which Ruscha has suggested should be seen as the beginning of the return journey, 'like a coda'.

Originally printed in a numbered edition of 400, a second edition of 500 was published in 1967 and a third of 3000 in 1969. Neither of these later editions was numbered. It has been suggested that these reprints were a deliberate attempt to flood the market in order to maintain the book's status as a cheap, mass-produced commodity. The book had originally sold for $3.50.

From its first appearance in his Twentysix Gasoline Stations and its subsequent translation into a masterpiece of American painting in 1964 as Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, the Standard gasoline station is arguably Ruscha's most iconic image.

Its stations ubiquitous across 20th Century America, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was at one point the largest company in the world. Even when broken up by the federal government into seven smaller companies, “Baby Standard” gasoline stations continued to line Route 66 from Los Angeles to Ruscha’s family home in Oklahoma City until 1984, when the brand became Chevron. Ruscha recorded several of these stations in his photographic book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which promoted his interest in closely observing the banal and the mundane, the taken-for-granted and the overlooked. Taking the rather unremarkable source photograph, Ruscha transforms it with a radical foreshortening which centres the composition around a plunging diagonal line. In this way, and with a gorgeously subtle play on words, he creates his idealised “standard” gasoline station.

The first Standard Station screenprint, made in 1966 with a blue and fiery red background, was followed in 1969 by Mocha Standard, Cheese Mold Standard with Olive and Double Standard, all variations on the 1966 forerunner and printed in the same size from the same screens. This is how the subject was left for 42 years until, in 2011, Ruscha decided to revisit the theme with Ghost Station, which was now considered one of the most famous images in Post-War art. A measure of how lionised the image of the Standard Station had become was shown when Christie’s offered Ruscha’s painting Burning Gas Station at auction in 2007. The painting sold for just under $7 million, and remains the most expensive work by the artist ever sold at auction.

Artist
Ed Ruscha (b.1937)
Title
TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS
Medium
Black offset printing on white paper
Date
1962/1969
Edition
From the third edition of approximately 3,000 copies
Publisher
Cunningham Press, Alhambra, California
Size
18.0 x 14.0 cm: 7 1/8 x 5 1/2 ins
Notes
Bound as issued within the white paper wrappers and glacine dust jacket, the title printed on the uppers and the spine. In good condition.
Literature
Engberg / Philpott B1
Reference
C13-16
Status
Sold

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