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:
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.