Distribution Automatique

Saturday, January 17

Debussy on Canvas: Rosenquist at the Guggenheim

When you live with an artist in love with galleries,
museums and art shows you go to a lot
of them and spend quite a lot of time
listening and looking and nodding repectfully
without having a clue as to what the art is
all about. But tonight's visit to the Guggenheim
Museum brought an entirely different sort of
experience. The James Rosenquist retrospective {click here}
was a competely pleasureable
experience, a joy to behold. Here are a few more of
the images from the Rosenquist
Retrospective {click here}
but even this selection of images
doesn't capture the range and excitement of these
paintings, many of which can take up an entire huge

Rosenquist's work rarely seems to be about pain or sadness,
though one large painting includes a version of Picasso's
Guernica. This may be the first artist I have ever seen
who could be visionary, while working in such a large
scale without being tragic or agonized. Rosenquist work is
light without being lightweignt, when there is irony it
is not puncturing, but is harmonized into an overview
that includes lush beauty and sensuality. Rosenquist
is cinematic to an exciting degree, and while we see many
of the familiar images of Pop Art, this work employs such
themes without a cartoony sense of strained humor, and
somehow I didn't feel the art to be blaring even when many
images employed in the work were. There are innumerable
references to art history. In one painting from 1966, Rosenquist
attaches a broken pane to the painting in a clear reference
to Duchamp. Yet these references do not come across as
either labored or ironic, they show a witty, even cinematic
kind of reflexivity of the artist's formal process such
you might observe in a great filmaker like Robert Altman
(I saw "The Player" recently; and have long been a fan of "Three Women");
Rosenquist uses art historical references the way a good
filmaker refers consciously or unconsciously to film history
and weaves them respectfully, but unintrusively, into the whole.
Also, while not always offering the vertical scale that might
reflect the scale of the paintings in the most complimentary way, the
Guggenheim offers a horizontal overview of many paintings
at a time which shows Rosenquist's complex, layered development and
cinematic qualities to great effect.

Rosenquist shows lots of wit and insight about time and history. In
1947, 1848, 1950, R depicts three kind of ties in
1950's tv style black and white. This painting was made
in 1960. Rosenquist seems supremely sensitive to technology's
continual reshaping of the way the eye receives color. Toni mentioned
Walter Benjamin and I thought that Rosenquist was doing
deconstruction long before the advent of Jacques Derrida.

As in the best collages, there is no need here to avoid narrative,
but also no ongoing need to recount history in either a sentimental
or a journalistic way. In this use of fragmentation, some elements
of harmony, whether about movement, color or tone, are always
insisted on- this is the classic aspect. As a result, as with my
favorite composers, notably Chopin and Debussy, the melodic
line goes anywhere from memorable to hypnotizing; but there is
always melody and there is always grace
Pleasurable melody remains the most memorable
of the sometimes fragmented and abstract,
yet never incoherent forms of narrative.
R is never maudlin, most particulary in his use
of color, which never precludes the phantasmagoria
of tv, cinema, advertising, notably neon- and there are numerous
references to the black and white era of tv and cinema- these are
lush and redolant with recent history and its overlay with the present.

The show closes on January 25th. Friday nights at the Guggenheim
are pay as you wish, and since the tourists have gone home, and
it is cold, you probably won't find it crowded; we didn't, and the
two hours we spent there went by in a minute.