James Rosenquist’s paintings, with their billboard-sized images of commercial subjects, are utterly emblematic of 1960s Pop Art. Their provocative imagery also touches on some of the major political and historical events of that turbulent decade–from the Kennedy assassination to the war in Vietnam. In the first full-length scholarly examination of Rosenquist’s art from that period, Michael Lobel weaves together close visual analysis, a wealth of archival research, and a consideration of the social and historical contexts in which these paintings were produced to offer bold new readings of a body of work that helped redefine art in the 1960s. Bringing together a range of approaches, James Rosenquist provides a compelling perspective on the artist and on the burgeoning consumer culture of postwar America.
Among the many retrospective texts written in the years following Lichtenstein’s death in 1997, this offers an unprecedented and cogent reappraisal of the artist’s participation in the pop art movement between the late 1950s and mid-1960s. It also provides valuable insight into the nature of the union between psychology and commerce in both the marketplace and the pop aesthetic of this period. Lobel (art history, Bard Coll.) presents Lichtenstein as a shrewd if occasionally ironic manipulator of lowbrow cultural ephemera who struggled with the paradox of being a painter in the age of mechanical reproduction and who, consequently, transformed elements of mass culture into sly, sometimes self-effacing intellectual puns. Lobel’s argument is well crafted and concise, and over the course of five chapters, he entices the reader down several conceptual tributaries branching from his central thesis. He tips his hat to postmodern art historical orthodoxy by employing methodologies and broaching issues now considered de rigueur for art theorists: semiotics, gender issues, and the gaze. Lobel is sparing but effective in his use of illustrations, offering period advertisements, comics strips, and comparisons to works of a similar spirit by his sometime rival Warhol to distinguish Lichtenstein’s oeuvre from others’ in his milieu.
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