Sure there was collage and assemblage before him, but what Pop artist James Rosenquist did in the 1960s is probably closer to our contemporary sensibilities about remix culture with its flattening of disparate images using a similar aesthetic that unifies jarring visuals into something new. Today, James Rosenquist: F-111 opened at the midtown Manhattan museum and it is installed in the same manner it was exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery on 4 E 77th Street in 1965. The 86-foot painting wraps around all four walls of the gallery and immerses you in the middle of its vision of American power.
When the painting was first exhibited it was immediately perceived as an anti-Vietnam War protest, which is hard to miss considering the militaristic name slapped on images of a smiling blonde girl, an atomic mushroom cloud and a US Air Force jet. Yet what gives the mural-sized work — though art historians and critics usually love using the term billboard-sized — its power is the strangely decorative thrill that strings together a cake, a tire, a commercial hair dryer, lightbulbs and spaghetti. Today, “F-111” (1964-64) feels more like the randomness of a tumblelog, and the work doesn’t look subversive or jarring to anyone who regularly swims in the river of online images.
A few decades later David Salle would explore some similar ideas but with a darker psychological bent. Salle’s work makes you realize that even if the subject matter of Rosenquist is serious, his palette gives off an erie optimism that can feel disturbing.
There’s a useful audio segment on the MoMA site giving some background to the piece (in the artist’s own words). The museum has interviewed the artist for their oral history project, which will include interviews with Ed Ruscha and Vito Acconci. Dan Graham, Yvonne Rainer and Vija Celmins have already been interviewed, according to The Art Newspaper.
James Rosenquist: F-111 continues at MoMA (35 W 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) until July 30.