Royal Road Test: 50 Year Anniversary

Royal Road Test_cover_closeupRoyal Road Test. If those three words are familiar to you, you know what’s coming. For the rest of you, well, this may be a little bit disturbing.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell: one fine day in 1966, conceptual artist Edward Ruscha, songwriter Mason Williams , and friend Patrick Blackwell decided to throw a Royal No. 10 standard typewriter from a car traveling 90 mph in the Nevada desert¹ and document the event as conceptual art. Mr. Ruscha drove the car, Mr. Williams threw the typewriter, and Mr. Blackwell photographed the strewn wreckage. The photographs were then printed with captions on commodity-grade glossy paper and assembled into a spiral-bound book, which was produced in four editions of 1,000 copies each.

First a little background. In the mid-1960s Mr. Ruscha was making a name for himself with artist books, where he would photograph (i.e. document) random, mundane objects and structures in the Los Angeles area. Some of the titles which preceded Royal Road Test include:

  • Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1962
  • Various Small Fires, 1964
  • Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965
  • Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
  • Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967

So back to typewriters. Why throw one out of a moving car? An answer was given early in the book:

“It was too directly bound to its own anguish to be anything other than a cry of negation; carrying within itself, the seeds of its own destruction.”

I’ve only ever seen or read snippets about this book, but thanks to a great inter-library loan program at the King County Library, I was able to check out this mythical book and see this art piece in its entirety. See it for yourself below; I will hold my commentary for a future post:

Royal Road Test_cover

Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_1Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_2Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_3Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_4Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_5Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_6Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_7Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_8Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_9Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_10-11 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_12Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_13-14 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_15Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_16-17 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_18Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_19Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_20Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_21Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_22-23 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_24-25 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_26Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_27Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_28Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_29-30 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_31Royal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_32-33 combinedRoyal Road Test_Ed Ruscha_34-35 combined###
Further Reading:
Edward Ruscha interview excerpts discussing his artist books
Smithsonian Museum oral history interview with Edward Ruscha
Ed Ruscha’s L.A.” article in the New Yorker

¹ Back in 1966 Nevada didn’t have speed limits on its highways. If you want to see how this sometimes played out to comic effect, I heartily recommend the quirky movie World’s Fastest Indian starring Anthony Hopkins.

9 thoughts on “Royal Road Test: 50 Year Anniversary

  1. Made me recall Augustine stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree:

    “We took great loads of fruit from it, not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs; even if we did eat a little of it, we did this to do what pleased us for the reason that it was forbidden.”
    St. Augustine, Confessions, Chapter 4.

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