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James Rosenquist: A Retrospective in Houston

Beginning the middle of May, Houston will be standing under the sign of James Rosenquist. Two renowned museums will together be showing the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist's works to date. Both Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation are taking part with important loans.

James Rosenquist, Mirage with Bedsheet Escape Ladder
Copyright VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2003
Deutsche Bank Collection

"There are painters, and then there are American painters," the Times wrote in the mid-eighties, clearly ascribing James Rosenquist to the latter category. Internationally, the New York-based artist is considered to be one of the most important proponents of American Pop Art. Rosenquist began his career as a sign painter. To this day, the mark advertising left on his work remains clearly evident. Back in the early sixties, he developed his own form of "New Realism" by dissecting motifs borrowed from ads and posters, combining them in new ways, and transferring them onto large-scale canvases. In his works, Rosenquist has used a kind of artificial fog to dematerialize the upper and lower edges of his pictorial spaces. In this vein, he's also employed hanging sheets of painted plastic to carry his collage technique into the third dimension. This technique has allowed him to create puzzling and visionary compositions of images in which narrative and abstract structures overlap and which often contain a critical political commentary. In Rosenquist's paintings, the shiny chrome of machines and car parts appears again and again, mirroring images from advertising and the mass media and distorting them to create alien forms.

In a 1972 interview with artforum , Rosenquist recalled: "As for automobiles and car parts, I was brought up with automobiles in the Midwest and I used to know the names of all of them. I came here and spent some time in New York and I didn't know anything that was stylish. I found myself standing on the corner, and things going by, and I couldn't recognize anything and that wasn't only automobiles. There were a lot of other things and I began to feel that what was precious to my thing was what I could remember."

From May 17 to August 17 2003, two museums in Houston will be presenting James Rosenquist: A Retrospective as one of this spring's most important art events. Together, the Menil Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) will be showing 210 works dating from 1958 to the present. Even though Rosenquist's oeuvre has already been documented in numerous large exhibitions, this is the first comprehensive presentation since 1972 to take all of the techniques the artist has used into consideration. While the Menil Collection will be introducing Rosenquist's works from the fifties, among them the famous painting F-111, the MFAH is concentrating on works made subsequent to 1970.

With important loans, Deutsche Bank and the Deutsche Guggenheim are taking part, as well: thus, along with Mirage With Bedsheet Escape (1974) from the collection of the Deutsche Bank, the monumental painting Swimmer in the Econo-mist (1998) will also be on show in Houston, which was Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin's first artist-commissioned work in the exhibition program conceived by Deutsche Bank and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
A series of Rosenquist's drawings also on exhibit in Houston document the work's development. In the tradition of his Environmental Paintings, the artist transformed the walls of the 5,100 square foot-space into an all-around painting. In recollection of Germany and Berlin, which Rosenquist visited shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a stirringly dynamic painting of Germany arose. Comprised of three canvases and over 160 feet in length, it is Rosenquist's largest painting to date.

Following its premiere in Houston, the exhibition will be shown at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and finally at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.