Mon 24 Nov
I’m such a big fan of James Rosenquist that I almost couldn’t dislike the retrospective that’s been running at the Guggenheim New York for the past month, but all the same, I’m pretty convinced that it would unequivocally wow any newcomer to the old pop master’s oeuvre.
Even if you choose to disregard the continued effectiveness of his legacy — and there are plenty of latter-period exercises in futility included in this exhaustive retrospective to help nay-sayers make such a case — seeing Rosenquist’s explosive canvases practically busting through the Guggenheim’s pristinely white, spiral well is a sight to behold. Few artists’ paintings can look so at home in this odd museum’s odd hallways while also looking like they barely belong there at all, but these do, and the effect is irresistibly crowd pleasing.
When I first really learned to appreciate Rosenquist I was halfway through art school already, but his broad, impactful manner of oversized, literal abstraction was a huge revelation to me. I went to see a pop art retrospective at MoCA in Los Angeles, in which some of his works were included, and I remember a feeling of overwhelming promise; Rosenquist may have made a career out of a a few dozen incredibly pointed criticisms of America’s unyielding optimism, yet the critique could not repress its subject matter.
If anything, the effect of his work has been to preserve that feeling of boundless predestination that characterized mid-century Americana. Looking at landmark canvases like “President Elect” is like submerging oneself in an evocation of a lost golden age, almost like viewing photographs of the best time you ever had. It’s still that way today for me; on Friday I still got a primal rush from my all-time favorite, “I Love You with My Ford,” and I had a huge grin in my brain when I stood inside the gargantuan masterpiece, “F-111.” I realize that I’m essentially relegating this work to the function of nostalgia, but I can’t deny that sometimes nostalgia is very, very powerful.