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Point of View: History-making art exhibition

Louisa McCune
Louisa McCune

Last week, I had a sneak peek of what I’m willing to go on record as saying is the most important art exhibition in the history of Oklahoma.

Ed Ruscha: OKLA opened at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center this week and will be on view through July 5. It is a masterwork of curatorial passion and exhibition design, focused on one of the most celebrated artists in the world, Edward Ruscha IV, whose work over the last six decades is so plainly and clearly rooted in his youth in Oklahoma that we might think of him as a next-door neighbor.

Ruscha is known for employing the “concrete word” in a variety of formats, from film to large-scale oil paintings. His work is appreciated for its sense of humor but a lightness that is never snarky, never rude and never sarcastic. His artworks are imbued with meaning and reference but are simultaneously simple and plainspoken.

There is everything to love in this exhibition. But many exhibitions are well done — why is this one so groundbreaking? Why is this one the most important in the history of Oklahoma?

1. Because Ed Ruscha is the most important living artist in the world (some could argue that Ai Wei Wei or Jeff Koons holds that title but Ruscha fans would make a compelling case otherwise). With this stature, he is certainly the most successful artist to come from Oklahoma.

2. Because his work is so Oklahoma-specific.

3. Because this is, astoundingly, the first solo homecoming exhibition to honor this great artist.

4. Because, at age 83, his work, his sensibility, and his timespan bridges World War II to contemporary Internet meme culture.

5. Perhaps most of all, because every Oklahoman will see themselves in the man himself and his artwork.

Ruscha’s love of country, cemented during his service in the Armed Forces, his influence by and on car culture, his endearment of Oklahoma people and their grammatical tics, his ability to wow with large-scale installation — these ideas permeate in each of the 75 or so works.

A standing ovation and bravo to co-curators Jeremiah Matthew Davis and Alexandra Schwartz. I’ve followed the career of Ruscha and have come to know Davis in my work with ArtDesk magazine. To see his and Schwartz’s visual scholarship and exhibition design is beyond thrilling. Also, credit to exhibits manager Steve Boyd and the whole team at Oklahoma Contemporary. The opening exhibition at the new arts center — "Bright Golden Haze" — was the perfect prelude to this solo extravaganza. As I said on my way out the door, they can surely expect art travelers from around the world to make their way to Oklahoma City to see this loving and smart homage to the great silver fox of contemporary art.

I love this exhibition unlike I’ve loved any other in my lifetime. It cannot be missed. And perhaps best of all, thanks to the hundreds of art patrons throughout Oklahoma, it’s free admission for all.

Louisa McCune is executive director of Kirkpatrick Foundation.