Somewhere in the heart of the Mojave Desert, one can find contemporary artist Ed Ruscha’s forgotten work of art — a resin rock sculpture called Rocky II, indistinguishable from the natural formations that surround it. The documentary “Where is Rocky II?” chronicles one man’s decade-long quest to find it.

Created by Oscar-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and visual artist Pierre Bismuth, the documentary will be screened Thursday night at the Yale University Art Gallery by the History of Art department’s Modern & Contemporary Art Forum. A 1979 BBC documentary captured Ruscha depositing the artificial rock into the desert without disclosing its location. It has remained there ever since. In his documentary, Bismuth hires a team of private investigators and a film crew to document his obsessive research journey to find Ruscha’s “rock.”

“[The documentary] is incredibly absurd — it shouldn’t really be taken too seriously,” said History of Art doctoral student Pierre Von-Ow GRD ’23, who will present the film and moderate an open discussion following the screening. “I wanted to screen it on campus because I think it’s a great metaphor for research in general.”

This film screening is a collaboration with the Yale University Art Gallery, which holds a substantial collection of Ruscha’s work.

“We really wanted to strengthen the collaboration between the Department of the History of Art and the Yale Art Gallery,” said Von-Ow.

He added that even though the YUAG and History of Art department are neighbors, located across from each other on York Street, they are “sometimes really separate.” Von-Ow considers Thursday’s collaboration as an opportunity to “foster and strengthen” a relationship with the YUAG.

Associate Curator of Programs at the YUAG Molleen Theodore helped coordinate the event and said that she is “always excited to collaborate with students and to make their work accessible and relevant to our multiple audiences.”

“Everyone has an obsession,” said Sara Petrilli-Jones GRD ’23, a doctoral student in the History of Art department and student at the Yale Law School who organized the event with Von-Ow. “We really want to emphasize that this film is of great relevance to people of any discipline or any background,” she added.

Petrilli-Jones said she hopes that the film will “speak to a lot of members of this community and the broader New Haven community.”

Von-Ow characterized “Where is Rocky II?” as “a documentary — but not really.” He explained that the film, as an art form itself, draws inspiration from Ruscha’s art.

“This is a film based on Ruscha, departing on a work from Ruscha,” he explained. While the film is “very much a work by Bismuth,” Von-Ow emphasized that the “notion of appropriation” — or adapting another artist’s art — is key to understanding the film.

“We really want to have discussions,” said Von-Ow. “[Where is Rocky II?] is an elastic film which has many layers of interpretation.”

Petrilli-Jones agreed that there are “a lot of genres at play” in this film and noted that it will pique interests ranging from film technicalities like cinematography to intellectual research and American art. She hopes that the conversation following the screening will reflect the “diversity of the audience” and allow “many of the layers of the film to come to the fore.”

Petrilli-Jones noted that Thursday’s screening will mark one of the first screenings of the film in the United States, making the event  a “very unique opportunity” for audience members.

“We don’t want something very formal,” said Von-Ow. He added that because the film carries an “ambiguous tone,” viewers from different backgrounds and careers will be able to interpret the film in diverse ways.

The screening will take place at the Yale University Art Gallery on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Allison Park | allison.park@yale.edu