The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, located on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus, will open a new exhibition on Sept. 10 titled OK/LA featuring Oklahoma artists Patrick Blackwell, Joe Goode, Jerry McMillan, Ed Ruscha, Paul Ruscha and Mason Williams. These six friends came of age in the 1950s and ‘60s Oklahoma City metro and subsequently moved to California to follow their individual artistic paths. This is the final exhibition curated by Mark White, executive director of the New Mexico Museum of Art and former director of the Fred Jones.
“This is the first exhibition to examine both the lifelong relationships between these artists and the influence of their home state, Oklahoma, on their respective careers,” White said. “Although each of the artists has received and will continue to receive critical and popular attention, it is an unparalleled opportunity to reunite these artists for a single exhibit.”
OK/LA is the result of many years of labor and coordination between what Paul Ruscha termed “The Students Five,” a group his brother Ed formed in the late 1950s with classmates at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. The exhibition surveys their individual careers over the span of six decades and how the friends’ Oklahoma upbringing informed work that both artists forged a unique path, they remained close friends over the years. OK/LA is the first exhibition to feature all six artists in their home state of Oklahoma.
The exhibition was originally slated to open in June with a panel discussion involving all six artists taking place on the university’s campus. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, delayed the original exhibition schedule, created logistical problems for key West Coast lenders to the exhibition, and stymied traditional opening events. The museum has persevered in the face of such hurdles, revising the exhibit calendar, overcoming logistics difficulties experienced by lenders to the show, and preparing a robust array of virtual programming that will explore the careers of each of the participating artists.
“Obstacles notwithstanding, it is important that the museum move forward and make the most of this important opportunity,” said Byron Price, the museum’s Wylodean and Bill Saxon interim director. “The chance to exhibit the individual and collective work of some of the Oklahoma’s most talented and influential artists on the national and world stage in the last 50 years does not come along every day.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog containing an interview conducted by White with Goode, McMillan and Ed Ruscha, along with essays by Blackwell, Williams, White, Paul Ruscha, and University of Oklahoma art historian Robert Bailey. The catalog will be available for purchase at the museum and on the museum’s website.
One of the provocative works in the diverse exhibition is a new installation piece by Paul Ruscha titled “Dinner for Donald.” A formally set dining table, with a twist, Ruscha’s installation is dedicated to the current U.S. president. It is the third work of its kind. “Dinner for Doris,” referring to legendary actress and singer, Doris Day, was first exhibited in 1970 at Ruscha’s studio in the Contemporary Arts Foundation in downtown Oklahoma City. The piece was updated in 2005 and renamed “Dinner for Dubya” when it was exhibited at Bert Green Fine Art in downtown L.A. In OK/LA, the updated work comes home to Oklahoma.