Sparks Fly in a Monumental Painting at Art Basel in Miami Beach
By Artsy Editors
Nov 25, 2014 6:57 pm

The centerpiece of the gallery’s booth, which will include compositions by such modern and contemporary giants as Keith Haring, Joan Mitchell, and Roy Lichtenstein, is a sweeping, exuberant, mural-sized painting by Pop art icon James Rosenquist. Titled Television or the Cat’s Cradle Supports Electronic Picture (1988-89), the painting is no less radical today than it was when the artist produced it more than two decades ago.

A former sign and billboard painter, Rosenquist once related that his “first job was painting the Hebrew National Salami sign on the Flatbush extension in Brooklyn.” He brought the images and scale of these outdoor advertisements into galleries and museums, effectively collapsing the barriers between so-called “high” art and commercial culture. Reflecting upon his work, Rosenquist characterized his compositions as “collages of disparate imagery put together” and, with a clap of his hands to emphasize his point, said: “The spark of different images [clap!] brings another idea.”

In the work in question Rosenquist creates sparks by bringing together images of the fragmented parts of a woman’s face, various views of outer space, flowers, abstract designs, and, overlaying all of this and stretching almost clear across the entire 20-foot face of the painting, shimmering white strings forming one of the patterns that appears in the game known as Cat’s Cradle. Such a cacophony of unlike images mimics the visual bombardment of mass media (then and now). It also suggests unexpected connections—between, for example, notions of cosmic order and the ordered patterns in the strings of Cat’s Cradle; or the delicacy of flower petals, the blush on a woman’s cheek, and starlight—while highlighting our unquenchable urge to find them, even where they do not necessarily exist.

Karen Kedmey