51st International Exhibition of Art
Ed Ruscha. Course of Empire
Project administered by: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Commissioner: Linda Norden, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Harvard University Art Museums
Consulting curator: Donna De Salvo
Course of Empire was both a site- and occasion-specific project, being the United States Pavilion's structure and architectural symbolism and the international scope of Venice Biennale each central to the installation. Inspired by the symmetrical neo-classical design of the Pavilion, Ruscha's installation comprised ten acrylic on canvas paintings, divided equally between the two sides of the building. In the pavilion's left-hand galleries were the original five Blue Collar paintings-black-and-white canvases depicting urban landscapes. In the opposite galleries were five pictures painted in color: new paintings mirroring the black-and-white originals in both subject matter and placement. In Ruscha’s words, they depicted “an accelerated, aged version of the same urban landscapes”, reclaimed, recycled, or abandoned. He described the pairs within his own cycle as alluding to the anxiety that has grown up around the modernist vision of progress in a postmodern age, a sentiment that echoes, however indirectly, the original Course of Empire by Thomas Cole (ca. 1835). The fact that Course of Empire exists as a cycle implied also movement and change. The variety of responses Ruscha conjured in this new group of paintings was itself an antidote to the specter of sameness that globalization tends to engender.