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Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
Monuments and Mediocrity: Landmarking Los Angeles


This essay examines the relationship between a series of small books with photographic illustrations and the determination of architectural value and monumentality in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Artist Ed Ruscha’s books of photographs of various elements of the Los Angeles built environment, in their choice of subject, style, and method, are at the center of a discussion around the meaning of the city’s landscape. Much has been made of Ruscha’s influence on Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Reyner Banham and their approach to an urban landscape without precedent. Examining this work in relation to contemporary attempts to interpret and valorize that Los Angeles’s landscape through photography and history indicates that Ruscha’s work was misread. Rather than an exposition of monumentality, Ruscha’s books took an indexical approach to the built environment, providing a more accurate measure of the public realm and suggestions for its comprehension and representation.