James Rosenquist’s ‘fragments of reality’ ring alarm bells at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

James Rosenquist’s ‘fragments of reality’ ring alarm bells at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

Starting out as a billboard painter, pop art protagonist James Rosenquist has never downsized. Like an elephant in a room, his eerie monumental works inspired by advertising aesthetics denounce the colossal absurdity of society’s rapacious consumerism. His instantly recognisable, hyperrealist mixed media works (painting and collage) juxtapose images of contemporary events to evoke an unsettling, hard-hitting contemporary reality. This exploration of reality is traced in ’Four Decades, 1970–2010’.

Now 83 years old, Rosenquist rose to fame in the 60s with F-111 (1965), a 51-panel work of an American fighter plane, viscous orange tinned spaghetti and a child under a hair dryer. Like most of Rosenquist’s works, it evokes an explicit feeling, one of injustice at the killing of innocence through war, the spaghetti a recurring symbol for spilt human entrails.

In the exhibition, the 33 rarely exhibited works highlight the artist’s thematic phases including space exploration, aesthetics, geo-politics, technology and ecology. However, the highlight is the highly aesthetic 14m-long Four New Clear Women (read ‘four nuclear women’). Pertaining to the women in power at the time – like Margaret Thatcher – and contemporary nuclear issues, four women’s eyes sit in splintered pink faces, arranged clockwise against a backdrop of cogs, signalling a running out of time: a fundamental motif for the artist.

His gaudy ‘fragments of reality’, as he calls them, are an explosion of disgust that force us to face the nonsensicality of modern capitalism and its sprawling impact. And for Rosenquist, collage is the decisive medium for expressing that. He writes, ’In collage there is a glint... or reflection of modern life. For example, if you take a walk through midtown Manhattan and you see the back of a girl’s legs and then you see out of the corner of your eye a taxi comes close to hitting you. So – the legs, the car – you see parts of things and you rationalise and identify danger by bits and pieces. It’s very quick. It’s about contemporary life.’

A second exhibition – ’The Collages, 1960–2010’, a show of 30 of Rosenquist’s first collages – is also on show at Thaddaes Ropac’s Marais outpost until 24 September.

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