Ed Ruscha’s “Stick Up Don’t Move Smile” (2001) and “Say Yes to Our Demands or Else” (1999), two small, older pictures from the big Ruscha show now at Gagosian Gallery in New York. Ruscha made them by bleaching-out the patches of fabric where we expect the words in the title to be, for a kind of reverse ransom-note effect. I like the way a cancelling that usually happens through scribbling on top of a word is here effected by the word’s removal. These pictures also trigger a lovely process of seeking, as you try to read words back into their blank patches. Threatening language gets reduced to the space its texts take up, as though form rather than meaning were the foundation of written expression – as though the visual always trumped the verbal.
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