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James Rosenquist (American, 1933-2017)
Also known as: Rosenquist, James AlbertBirth Place: Grand Forks (Grand Forks county, North Dakota, United States)
James Rosenquist (November 29, 1933-March 31, 2017) was a leading figure of the post-war era of artists, who helped define the pivotal genre of Pop Art. Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1933, he is best known for his large-scale paintings that combine an array of juxtaposed images referencing the rapid increase of consumer culture of America in the 1960s. He was among the first artists to directly address the persuasive and deceptive power of advertising.
As a teenager, James Rosenquist studied art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and then attended the University of Minnesota between 1952 and 1954, where he painted billboards during his summer vacation. He moved to New York in 1995 to study at the Art Students League, and he left after only one year, but he returned as a commercial artist in 1957 to paint billboards across the city, including Times Square.
Rosenquist stopped billboard painting in 1960 and rented a studio space with artists Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, and Jack Youngerman as his neighbors. After his first solo show at the the Green Gallery in New York in 1962, he became a part of the numerous and innovative group exhibitions that helped define and establish Pop Art as an official movement.
Much like his fellow contemporaries, Rosenquist was fascinated by the craze of pop culture. In order to visually reflect his social, political, and cultural concerns, he used images directly from mass media and advertisements and enlarged them to create overwhelming grandiose works of seemingly unrelated images. Oftentimes, these works would fill entire gallery walls. The sense of overwhelm was the artist’s unique way of expressing society’s numbness to its unhealthy obsession with not only material consumption, but also with political and celebrity stardom.
Other notable artists who experimented with highlighting the omnipresence of ads included Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol.
Although Rosenquist’s paintings were rarely overtly political, his most famous work that received international acclaim is the massive F-111. Created in 1964 and 1965, it was made in part as a type of protest against militarism in America. Across an eighty-six foot work containing fifty-one panels, the work features an image of a fighter plane interjected with images, including a beach umbrella, a mushroom cloud, spaghetti, and a young girl under a hair dryer that looks very much like a warhead.
Rosenquist intended to sell the painting as fifty-one individual panels, but the collector who bought the work kept it all together as one, and it currently resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Another notable work by Rosenquist is his print Time Dust,1992, which measures seven by thirty-five feet, making it most likely the largest print in the world.
He received many honors throughout his career, and much of his work resides in various collections and museums across the globe. His work continues to influence artists and remains relevant to social, political, and cultural issues present today.
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