With his deadpan, mechanically produced, offset printed, unsigned artist book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha upended the art of photography. More recently he upended the art of photographing art. Museums are out there trying every way to depict the 7 inch-by-25-foot accordion-style book accurately on their little websites.
MoMA shows just the cover, blank with the words The Sunset Strip at the top. The Getty shows the title page, plus a single, 14-inch spread, very manageable. The Harvard Art Museums treats it like a rare book, publishing images of the whole thing, in a gallery of 22 3-fold spreads. The Met, which never met a copyright it didn’t maximize, gives absolutely nothing, just the text description.
Last year, the Getty, which holds Ruscha’s archives, went several extra miles by digitizing 60,000 of the over half million photos the artist and his collaborators have taken of the Sunset Strip since 1965. Turns out the book we know was just the first of at least 12 Sunsets spanning fifty years (so far), all of which are available online, for virtual driving.
And then there is the single greatest photo in museum collection digitizing history, and I am 100% unironically serious when I say I hope the National Gallery of Art never replaces it, but uses it forever, in every medium, known or unknown, until the end of time.
The National Gallery of Art acquired Every Building on the Sunset Strip in 2015, when it subsumed the Corcoran. Every institution’s online collection presentation is shaped as much by its choices of software as by its information design and priorities, and the NGA’s even more so. The URL for the image above indicates it is generated to fit within a frame of a certain dimension, in this case 600 x 600 pixels.
Clicking on the image doesn’t just zoom, it ZOOMS, taking the visitor to what may be the largest image of Every Building ever made, a near infinite scroll of more than 5,000 256px square jpeg tiles. Each tile is about 1/2 square inch of the original book, close in enough to see the halftone dot matrix used to render Ruscha’s photos on the offset lithographed page.
I am now trying to figure out how to extract these tiles, which are now the second-to-5000th best images of Every Building on the Sunset Strip ever made. Who knows, I might try to put them in a book.
Edward Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966 [nga.gov]
Previously, related, unrealized: A 2005 attempt to replicate Every Building on Amazon’s A9 Local Yellow Pages, an unsuccessful Streetview Precursor