Jay Sanders on Allen Ruppersberg


As part of the Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums, and Artists (A.i.A.’s August issue), we preview the 2017–18 season of museum exhibitions worldwide. In addition to offering their own top picks, our editors asked select artists, curators and other experts to identify the shows they are looking forward to. Here, Jay Sanders talks about Allen Ruppersberg.

“I’ve long been interested in the strand of LA Conceptual art that includes Bas Jan Ader, Guy de Cointet, Jack Goldstein, William Leavitt, and Allen Ruppersberg. These artists deal with persona, humor, and melodramatic tropes, and interrogate the conventions of a medium or genre by isolating or transposing its basic elements in surprising ways. Al is a master of that. I helped organize one of his projects, in 2010, when I worked at Greene Naftali in New York. Since then, I’ve forged an independent relationship with him, and we have done talks together and kept up with each other’s work.

“Al is doing something similar to what Marcel Broodthaers did—a big reference point for him—but he focuses on American vernacular culture rather than Belgian society. He explores how you can use popular forms—early rock and roll, anonymous snapshot photography, letterpress posters, books—but have a set of avant-garde concerns operating in the work. 

“His early projects were really interesting. The food at Al’s Café [1969] was inedible—you’d get a plate with a houseplant and some stones. In Al’s Grand Hotel [1971], each room had a different theme—one had aquariums holding strange objects, another a group of standees. At the time he was probably a bit on his own with such projects, which played with value in both art and service by casting assemblage art in the form of social gathering places. But he’s an important link to artists working in relational aesthetics in the ’90s. And his Picture of Dorian Gray piece [1974]—where he wrote out the whole book on a series of canvases—was a clear influence on artists like Frances Stark and conceptual poets like Kenneth Goldsmith.

“More recently, Al has made multipanel works incorporating the text of obituaries for Jackson Mac Low, Jack Goldstein, and many other artists. Like his pieces employing Americana and twentieth-century technologies, these works perform the end of things that are actively disappearing—the avant-garde, Conceptual art. They also present a personal history involving Al’s heroes and colleagues. I’m happy that the Walker show will include a number of such later works, where he deals with aging in elegant and complicated ways.”


“Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968-2018,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Mar. 16–July 29, 2018; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, February–May, 2019. Additional venues TBA.

JAY SANDERS is executive director and chief curator of Artists Space in New York.