August 10,


Chapter 1:
On Twentysix Gasoline Stations.

Maite Muñoz

I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company

A few weeks ago we published this profile-interview. by Rafa Montilla on Maite Muñoz. Since we were left wanting to know more about Maite, at the end of our talk we decided to propose her to collaborate with us somehow, in any way she preferred, taking advantage of the fact she was moving to Los Angeles.

She replied in pseudo-epistolary form: the series of “articles”, to call them somehow, that were part of her past experiences at the MACBA archive and her current artistic discoveries would be presented in a (flexible, changing) letter format that she’ll send to us from L.A.

I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company
I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company

This is the first e-mail
we got from there:

From: Maite Muñoz
To: Joan

Hi Joan!

I’m gone. I’m already in L.A., and since I got here I can’t stop thinking about Twentysix Gasoline Stations, the book that Ed Ruscha published in 1963. Do you know it? It was the first of the approximately sixty self-published books that he has published up to now, in more than fifty years. A book that obsesses me because it starts a new artistic paradigm, the book as art work, with a modest format but a wonderful range, that lets itself be seduced by the spirit of pop and is at the same time a reference of conceptual art. Since I moved here I feel a bit lost and I think I’m trying to establish links between things I love and my fascinating and hostile new surroundings.

The book’s premise is simple: Ed Ruscha travels from his home in Los Angeles to his parents’ house in Oklahoma and photographs with his medium format camera all the gas stations he finds along the way. According to Google Maps, it’s a 1,328-mile route. The book takes advantage of the sequential qualities of its structure, eminently narrative and temporary, to display the black and white photographs of twenty-six gas stations, each of them accompanied by a footnote indicating the name and the place of the gas station with topographic will. Both photographs and texts show a dispassionate documentary style, seemingly devoid of stylisation, and tries, at least apparently, to appear as neutral. Both the point of view of the photographs as the book’s graphic approach make us think that the gas stations have been found by chance, that they are findings he stumbled upon while driving. The book makes me think of a road movie, since it links the photographic act with driving. Driving, something that I, as a usual urban cyclist and without a driver’s license, relate to Los Angeles, a city that is inevitably experimented from a car, as I’m starting to learn. Ruscha always said that in his case the photographs weren’t an end in themselves, but a means to reach the book format, the manifestation of a project. I won’t go into the photographic qualities of the book, as they are many and complex, nor dare to enter the debate about the limits of the photobook and the artist’s book.

It’s one of the first books I encountered when I started to become interested by the world of artists’ publications. It is mentioned on all reference works as the beginning of a new conception of the work of art in book format, which moves away from the manufacturing of the artist’s book in limited editions to become a serialised and cheap work, with a will to democratising art and in which the relationship with the spectator/user is close and direct and where the institutionalising device, the museum/gallery, loses all its meaning. Taking the book in your hands, flipping over the pages, smelling it, feeling its weight and taking it home to take it again any moment. It’s amazing. But I’m also amazed by the anecdotes surrounding it. Ed Ruscha did a first print-run of 400 copies, as the North-American publishing tradition dictates, and took a copy to the Library of Congress for it to become part of their catalogue. There, an example of Library Science, they looked at it in a funny way, not knowing how to interpret it or classify it, and rejected it. It seems that the book was one of those manifestations that provoke incomprehension and fascination at the same time. Many young artists of the time put their eyes on it and it became an absolute reference for the concept of the contemporary artist’s book. The initial 400 print-run was sold out and the first edition, which initially cost around three dollars per copy, is now valued in the art market at around $30,000 and is part today of many of the most important institutional and private collections in the world of art. Quite paradoxical, to say the least!

The book has been re-printed. The three first re-prints were made by Ruscha himself to try and avoid the market speculation that the very concept of the artist’s book reacts against. There are also many quotations, homages and versions of this and other books by Ruscha. Most of them keep a similar structure: white cover, colour letters placed on three lines, sequences of black and white photographs, some on two-page spreads, others on a single page, accompanied by brief information: very identifiable, exemplary and, hence, easy to fake. A while ago I looked at the ones that are part of the collection of publications of the MACBA archive. This is the picture I took: three books by Ruscha, and other four that aren’t. My favourite is Various Small Dicks, by Hubert Kretschmer, a reference to Ruscha’s Various Small Fires, because it’s funny and insane. I’ve always thought that one day I would like to undertake the useless task (in the best sense of the word useless) of listing all the books that parody/homage/directly refer to Ruscha’s gas stations book.

As I was telling you at the beginning of my e-mail, since I got here I can’t stop thinking about this book. I’m trying to spot the first gas station that appears on it to go there on a pilgrimage, as in a kind of strange act of faith. The footnote says “Bob’s Service. Los Angeles, California”. I have some clues. If I’m lucky and I manage to get someone to take me there by car (remember, I can’t drive and I just moved to Los Angeles), I’ll go and do some more research. Yesterday I read Ed Ruscha and Some Los Angeles Apartments, a book I got for my birthday. I hadn’t had the time to look at it closely, and I thought now was the best moment to do so. I discovered that a couple of years ago, the Getty Research Institute, based in L.A., bought Ed Ruscha’s Street of Los Angeles Archive, made out of negatives, photographs and documents related to the projects around the city of Los Angeles that Ruscha did between 1965 and 2010, acts that seem to range between the representation of the superficiality and the fascination for the beauty of the city’s functional elements. I’m going to try and get an appointment at Getty to go and consult it. I’m really thrilled! I’ll tell you all about it.

A big hug

I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company
I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company
I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company

From: Joan Pons
To: Maite

Many thanks, Maite.

I think we’re going to publish it just like this, without editing it.
I was thinking that maybe, if we want to pay homage to the kind of correspondence you used to manage at the MACBA archive, it would be interesting if you could send us the next letter… hand-written! (Although I can’t even remember the last time I wrote something by hand… Who knows what my calligraphy might look like now, already quite peculiar in itself!). What do you think? If you send us a letter we can scan it, or maybe you can scan it and send it to us. We’ll see… You tell me.
Another big hug

PS: I can’t wait to read the next article-letter!

I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company
I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company
I’m off. A fictional autobiographic story in epistolary form – O Production Company

Maite Muñoz