Hello Internet: Dave Hickey Says It’s OK To Deface Ralphs, Damian Tries Not To Gatekeep Ed Ruscha

Damian Garde at a diner in NYC, sipping coffee
Damian Garde at Margon in NYC. Photo by Eva Avenue.

Manhattan, 8 a.m.

I’m sitting at Margon’s on 46th street December 5 with my UNM friend Damian in the unlikely situation of celebrating Dave Hickey’s birthday over a breakfast of Cuban toast and cafes con leche, con canela. I have to be at work soon, just north of Times Square.


Damian: I remember sitting in Dave Hickey’s class, the one time that I went, and he was saying a lot of things but one thing that has always stuck with me is he was like “the external wall of the Ralphs (grocery) does not belong to Ralph. Inside the store is Ralphs. Outside of it, that is the firmament that belongs to everyone.”

Eva: He talked about the membrane between public space and private property!

Right, and I think his point, largely, was there’s no such thing as graffiti in traditional terms of the way you think of it as a criminal defacement. You cannot deface the Ralphs because it is outside the membrane; the wall of Ralph’s belongs to those of us walking down the street.

The concept, which has this kind of egalitarianism that’s almost like, I don’t know, there’s something not communist but like communal — it speaks to a communalism. Walking down the street, I have as much right to see something beautiful as the proprietor or owner of the business has to put whatever they want in it.

Like we are in this together, rather than individuals just being psychically damaged by the things we see, which is my experience in Miami; I endure that psychic damage every day because it has the worst art in the world.

Damian flew up from Miami and went straight to the MoMA from Laguardia two days ago for the Ed Ruscha exhibit and found himself needing to dial back the urge to gatekeep Ed’s work against people who’d never been to the Southwest.


Damian: The thing I remembered as I was feeling the gatekeeping urge of Edward Ruscha, and I didn’t really understand it then and maybe I don’t understand it now, but [Hickey] was talking about how when an artist perfectly captures something, there’s nothing left to mine there.

But he was saying it in a reverent way, not in a get-off-my-lawn way. And he was saying if you stand on the California coast and want to paint the waves crashing into the shore, too late pal, cause this other guy did it, it’s done, that has been perfected. Look elsewhere or find something else to do.

Painting “White Sands, New Mexico,” acrylic on canvas by Eva Avenue
Eva Avenue’s “White Sands, New Mexico,” acrylic on canvas.

And I was kind of having that thought about the sort of through-line of you’re driving between Flagstaff and Death Valley in the middle of the night on the highway and listening to the radio and you’re stuck between stations; the sounds, the songs are kind of blending together and there’s an old gas station called, like, Pete’s and it’s either haunted or magical, and you’re just taken by the desert in the middle of the night and highway and all that — look elsewhere, cause the Ed Ruscha thing, he nailed that…just highway transcendentalism of being a western person in a car and whatever anxieties about how much gas you have or the freedom you might feel about being in the big sky in the desert and all that is contained within it. It’s whatever Dave Hickey was talking about with the artist and the waves of California.

Eva: You were gatekeeping people who’d never been to the Southwest they don’t really understand what they’re looking at because they don’t know the majesty of it?

I had two thoughts. One, it’s NYC, so these German tourists or Ikea people with their perfect children and monochromatic clothes — I’m just kind of looking down my nose at them like, “you’ve never —”, like the thing I just described — you’re trapped on the radio and you have no control over what plays and then suddenly a Tom Petty song you’ve never really liked comes on and it’s the most important song that’s ever existed because its been given to you by divine right cause it came on the weird radio station between whatever city and, like, the sun is rising over there — so it’s like all of those things and I’m looking at him like, “You’ve never done that, bro. You’re from Oslo. You don’t even have the sun!”

My second thought was — one, that’s shitty, like, I can’t gatekeep. But two, that I was kind of underrating the art because probably what I’m reacting to in Ed Ruscha — and this is the Dave Hickey point where he nailed it — is that Sven and Bjorn probably are experiencing that standing here looking at Ed Ruscha’s art even though they don’t know the feeling that is synthesized in it; not just an advertisement for why art is important but like transporting you; probably they are tapping into it cause Ed Ruscha was tapping into it and so now it’s kind of transmuted to that, so it’s not mine to gatekeep.

I wouldn’t have a big faith in a substantial transmutation but that’s nice of you to think that they’re getting something out of it. I feel like it’s a little bit wishful thinking but….

Maybe, maybe yeah.

But he does capture a luminosity with flat color, it’s weird. 

And it’s been ripped off a lot because the concept is simple, so it’s like — what if I put text over a thing? What people miss is they’re snippets of radio frequencies that are coming in and out.

The Ed Ruscha exhibition ED RUSCHA / NOW THEN is on view at MoMA through January 13, with an extra viewing day January 14 for members. 

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