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James Rosenquist (1933-2017)
The Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection
James Rosenquist (1933-2017)

Director

Details
James Rosenquist (1933-2017)
Director
signed, titled and dated 'JAMES ROSENQUIST 1964 "DIRECTOR"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas with painted folding chair frame
overall: 98 x 62 x 30 in. (248.9 x 157.5 x 132.1 cm.)
canvas: 90 x 62 in. (228.6 x 157.4 cm.)
Executed in 1964.
Provenance
Dwan Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1964
Literature
H. Seldis, “Pop Artist Will Survive Trend,” Los Angeles Times, 7 November 1964, p. 74.
J. Kind, Art Scene, July-August 1968, p. 11 (illustrated).
J. C. Taylor, America As Art, Washington, D.C., 1976, p. 303 (illustrated).
J. Goldman, James Rosenquist, New York, 1985, p. 126 (illustrated).
James Rosenquist, exh. cat., Institut Valencià d'Art Modern Centre Julio Gonzalez, 1991, p. 32 (illustrated in color).
James Rosenquist: The Early Pictures 1961-1964, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 1992, p. 98 (illustrated).
M. Hand, The Passionate Collector: Robert B. Mayer’s Adventures in Art, Chicago, 2011, p. 78, 142 and 144 (installation views illustrated in color).
Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 2016, p. 337.
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, James Rosenquist, October-November 1964.
Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, The Other Tradition, January-March 1966, p. 47.
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, James Rosenquist, January-February 1968, pp. 58-59, no. 24 (illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Mayer, July- September 1968, n.p., no. 60 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Köln, James Rosenquist: Gemälde—Räume—Graphik, January-March 1972, p. 79, no 72 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, James Rosenquist, April-September 1972, p. 82 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, American Pop Art, April-June 1974, pp. xi and 93, no. 64, fig. 83 (incorrectly illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, on loan, December 1975-April 1976.
Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution, on loan, April-October 1976.
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, on loan, October 1976-October 1983.
Denver Art Museum; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Des Moines Art Center; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Gallery; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, James Rosenquist, May 1985-January 1987, pp. vi and 126 (illustrated).
Milwaukee Art Center, on loan, February 1990-June 1994.
Houston, Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, May 2003-October 2004, p. 120, no. 49 (illustrated in color).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

One of the founding members of American Pop, James Rosenquist’s bold style and skillful handling of paint set him apart from other representational painters working in the mid-20th century. With a background as a commercial painter of billboards, the artist’s mastery of large format depictions was put to the test as he pulled subjects from the overwhelming consumerist imagery of the early 1960s. Director is a striking example of Rosenquist’s ability to work with traditional painting and more avant-garde techniques in the same work. Drawing parallels with the Combine paintings of the Pop harbinger Robert Rauschenberg, Rosenquist’s use of different media hints at the artist’s interest in assemblage, and its connection to the overwhelming amount of imagery being consumed by the public in their day-to-day experience. “The essence…,” the artist noted, “is to take very disparate imagery and put it together and the result becomes an idea, not so much a picture. It’s like listening to the radio and getting your own idea from all these images that are often antidotes—acid—to each other. They make sparks or they don’t” (J. Rosenquist, quoted in J. Blaut, “James Rosenquist: Collage and the Painting of Modern Life,” in W. Hopps & S. Bancroft, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 2003, p. 17). By marrying different objects, the visual language employed in works like Director make them vaguely familiar but leave the message open-ended.

Director is a large work that is typical of Rosenquist’s unique style in the 1960s. Pulling his imagery from advertisements and other printed sources, his breakthrough works combine disparate subjects in a jarring amalgam. On the left side of the canvas, a red fork scoops up a pillowy cloud of golden yellow sponge cake. The image would be at home in a magazine advertisement trying to sell the latest ‘make your own’ cake mix, or directing us toward the nearest supermarket aisle. However, in this case, the artist pairs it with an immaculately rendered rim of a car’s wheel. The gleaming chrome of the hubcap reflects the white in the tire, and a matching metal bumper is just barely in view on the top left. Rosenquist’s ability to crop in on various aspects serves to disassociate the source imagery from its meaning or any possible context. Instead, it brings the viewer’s attention to the subjects themselves and their visual qualities. This is especially important to note, as the painter was much more interested in the pictorial elements in his works rather than those that had any bearing on popular culture. He maligned the misreading of his works, exclaiming, “I wanted the space to be more important than the imagery. I wanted to use images as tools. But it just didn’t happen, because the dumb critics said, ‘Oh, look. I can recognize that. That’s a car, that’s a hot dog, that’s popular.’ My work didn’t have anything to do with popular images like chewing gum” (J. Rosenquist, quoted in J. Goldman, James Rosenquist, exh.cat., New York, 1985, p. 35). By juxtaposing competing elements that push back against any sort of readable narrative, Rosenquist attempts to thwart recognition in favor of a more ambiguous reading. In this case, the artist has gone one step further and included a folding chair frame painted so that it blends in with the painted canvas. Lacking its fabric seat and back, which would have been made from the very material used for the painting’s surface, the chair becomes camouflaged against Rosenquist’s massive image while also creating a link between the world of the painting and our own physical realm.

After moving to New York from Minnesota after college in 1955, Rosenquist studied at the Art Students League on a scholarship. He earned money as a billboard painter until 1960 when he started combining subjects from his day job in vaguely Surrealist combinations. This reliance on photographs and extant imagery for his source material set him apart from the Abstract Expressionists and helped to establish his practice as an early Pop contributor. However, rather than reproducing images one-to-one like Roy Lichtenstein or Warhol, Rosenquist relished the the play inherent in collage arrangement. The curator Walter Hopps noted, “Another factor that sets Rosenquist apart from the other Pop artists is the degree to which he has relied on handpainting. He has rarely used any mechanical means—the stencils or silkscreening that Lichtenstein and Warhol favored. He is a superb painter in a very traditional sense, producing very untraditional images” (W. Hopps, “Connoisseur of the Inexplicable” in exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, 2003-2004, p. 8). Harnessing what would otherwise have been a very traditional method of representational painting, Rosenquist was able to create photorealistic imagery that could blend and bleed into itself in a manner unseen heretofore.

Though he often tried to distance himself from the conceptual nature of his Pop compatriots, Rosenquist nonetheless remains a titular figure within the movement. By culling his subject matter from various publications and extant imagery while taking advantage of his considerable training as a large-scale painter, the artist was able to formulate a commentary on visual culture in mid-century America. Speaking about Rosenquist’s use of billboard painting tactics on the occasion of the artist’s retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York, Peter Schjeldahl asked, “Was importing the method into art a bit of a cheap trick? So were Warhol’s photo silk-screening and Lichtenstein’s limning of panels from comic strips. The goal in all cases was to fuse painting aesthetics with the semiotics of media-drenched contemporary reality. The naked efficiency of anti-personal artmaking defines classic Pop. It’s as if someone were inviting you to inspect the fist with which he simultaneously punches you.” (P. Schjeldahl, “Time Pieces,” New Yorker, October, 2003). Like Warhol, Rosenquist borrowed the processes of capitalism and turned them on their head.

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