March 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Henry Ford of Book Making

Opening tomorrow at New York's Gagosian Gallery is an exhibit titled Ed Ruscha: Books & Co. Ruscha, who once said, "I want to be the Henry Ford of book making," wanted to make artists' books accessible to a wider audience. His first photobook, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), was a series of photos of gas stations along Rt. 66. It originally sold for $3.50. According to the gallery's press release, the book received a poor reception at first and was even rejected by the Library of Congress for its "unorthodox form." But the ensuing years have been kinder to the book, now considered one of the first modern artists' books. (Looks like a first edition goes for about $7,500-8,500). The Los Angeles-based artist followed up with other photo-conceptual books, Various Small Fires, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Real Estate Opportunities, and A Few Palm Trees.

The current exhibition is not of Ruscha's own work--that was held last fall--but of contemporary art that responds to or is inspired by Ruscha's seminal debut. It runs through April 27. Homage is also paid in a coinciding book, Various Small Books: Referencing Various Small Books by Ed Ruscha (MIT Press, $39.95).

Ruscha, who studied commercial design and typography, told the New York Times last week, "I love books, the physical objects of them ... My interest was always in books and how to make them." The article goes on to talk about the value of printed books--catalogues, zines, art books--and the intimacy they evoke, particularly for artists.