Burning Question

October 14, 2008


Ed Ruscha, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968, Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

One of the first things I ever learned about LACMA was that it was the subject of Ed Ruscha's 1968 painting The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire. In March of 2006, the Believer asked Ruscha about the work, which resides in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and his other fire paintings.

"I'm not lighting fires," he said. "It's a way of attaching an additional meaning to the painting that would otherwise not have fire—if I can be so simple to say. And it's fun to paint fire." Asked if "there isn't an embedded desire to burn the Los Angeles County Museum," Ruscha said, "No. But if you want to see that as a political painting, you can—a revolt against an authority figure."

Of course the meaning of the painting is a good question, but my question is more prosaic: What is it doing at the Hirshhorn? Great museum, no doubt, but wouldn't it more naturally reside at the museum whose imaginary peril it depicts? So we at Unframed would like to propose a trade, Hirshhorn Museum: Los Angeles County Museum on Fire in exchange for—well, take a look at this sketch.

It's not finished. If you're interested we can work on it. So, you know, think about it. In the meantime, if you're in Los Angeles and want to see a fine selection of Ruschas (including, yes, Norm's, La Cienega, on Fire), check out the third floor of BCAM here at LACMA.

Tom Drury