James Rosenquist (B. 1933)
James Rosenquist (B. 1933)

Conveyor Belt

James Rosenquist (B. 1933)
Conveyor Belt
signed and dated 'JAMES ROSENQUIST 1964' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas with motorized conveyor, painted canvas, conveyor belt, painted fabric and wood
72 x 158 x 28 in. (183 x 401.5 x 71.2 cm.)
Executed in 1964.
Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles
Count Giuseppe Panza de Biumo, Milan
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
Purchased from the above by the present owner
M. Tucker, James Rosenquist, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1972, p. 27 (illustrated).
E. Weiss, James Rosenquist: Gemälde-Räume-Graphikm, exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museums, Cologne, 1972, p. 79 (illustrated).
J. Goldman, James Rosenquist, New York, 1985, p. 125 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, James Rosenquist, October-November 1964, no. 6.
Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum and Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Kompass III: Paintings after 1945 in New York, November 1967-February 1968, pp. 34 and 43, no. 56 (illustrated).
Kassel, Galerie an der Schönen Aussicht; Kassel, Museum Fridericianum and Kassel, Orangerie im Auepark, 4 Documenta Kassel '68, June-October 1968, p. 259, no. 3 (illustrated).
Houston, The Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts; New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Bilbao, The Guggenheim Museum, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, May 2003-October 2004, pp. 116-117, no. 46 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

"The way technology appears to me now is that to take a stance--in a painting, for example--on some human qualities seems to be taking a stance on a conveyor belt; the minute you take a position on a question or an idea, the acceleration of technology, plus other things, will in a short time already have moved you down the conveyor belt."

C. Oldenburg in M. Tucker, James Rosenquist, New York, 1972, p. 26.

Conveyor Belt captures Rosenquist's signature style of rendering everyday objects with the immediacy and gigantism of billboard advertising, yet thwarting their complete apprehension through fragmentation, shifts in scale and odd juxtapositions. Using photographic sources drawn from magazines, newspapers and posters, he captures modern American life as lived and reflected through the media. He heightens his rendering of banality by incorporating three-dimensional objects drawn from real life, creating a large-scale work that blurs the distinctions between painting, sculpture and environment.

Painting billboards and signs between 1954 and 1960, Rosenquist quit his day job in the fall of 1960, and rented a loft in Lower Manhattan at 3-5 Coenties Slip. Here, he began to apply his commercial art experience and vision to his evolving artistic efforts. Similar to the methods he had used as a sign painter, Rosenquist drew his images from photographs, usually culled from the detritus of consumer culture and combined them into collage maquettes that he then used as studies for his paintings. Enlarging the fragmented cropped juxtapositions of his collages in his slick commercial style, he created a new visually idiosyncratic language that was steeped in the American vernacular.

The collaged, disconnected images and high-key colors that comprise Conveyor Belt are a metaphor for the bombarding stimuli of modern life that seem to pass by as if propelled along by a fast-moving conveyor belt. As an intrinsic component of industrialized mass production, the conveyor belt is particularly resonant of the underlying fundamentals behind the advertising imagery and consumer culture that informed much of Rosenquist's source material. The eponymous device lies on the floor just below the painting as if to facilitate the progression of images on the canvas. On the far right corner of the painting, a disembodied hand clutching what appears to be a paper bag, is rendered in monochromatic shades of pink. Rosenquist often rendered body parts, and hands featured frequently in his repertoire as if to suggest a surrogate of the artist's hand. Significantly, it is from this segment of the painting that a paint-splattered piece of canvas rolls down, leading to a small painting on the floor. The dripped and splotched rag is a possible allusion to the gesturalism of Abstract Expressionism, especially as filtered through Rauschenberg's Bed to which it bears a formal likeness, even though it contrasts with the artist's carefully planned style of painting. Moving further to the left of the pink segment, is a canary yellow passage depicting enlarged type-writer keys marked 1, 2 and 3, and a geometric grille bored by a threatening oversize pink nail. Next to it is the fragmented image is a speeding red car caught on a diagonal to suggest motion, with a blank-faced figure seen through its windscreen. Another recurring motif in Rosenquist's paintings, the car refers to the quintessentially American experience of life lived and glimpsed on the road.

Cutting through this image is an opposing silver diagonal that also seems to recall a scaled-up industrial part, possibly another fragment of a car. Finally, on the far left, is a deep blue abstract passage of color topped by a linear drawing against blank white canvas, evoking the debate between the color and line. Rosenquist seems to call an end to such distinctions through what looks to be a drawing of an easel on the upper left corner of the painting: it does not support a canvas that represents an illusionistic window on the world, rather, it reveals the real canvas of Conveyor Belt. He reveals the physicality and fragility of the canvas further by gouging it violently with a wooden stick. Given the size of Conveyor Belt, its incorporation of found objects and its extension into an environment, Rosenquist proclaims the end of traditional painting and its concerns about drawing, painting and illusionism.

More from Post War and Contemporary Evening Sale

View All
View All