James Rosenquist - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    James Rosenquist, 'Highway Temple', Lot 40

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Sweden
    Meridian Fine Art, New York
    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris
    Evelyn and Jonathan Read, United States
    Private Collection
    Acquavella Galleries, New York and Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 2004)
    Private Collection, Houston (acquired from the above in 2005)
    Maxwell Davidson Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in March 2011)
    Sotheby's, New York, November 11, 2014, lot 64
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Salzburg and Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Ensemble Moderne: das Moderne Stilleben / The Still Life in Modern Art, July 25 - October 30, 1998, no. 103, p. 189 (illustrated, pp. 126-127)
    Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art; Wellesley, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College; Minneapolis, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Surrounding Interiors: Views Inside the Car, October 5, 2001 - January 3, 2003, pp. 8-9 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    American Pop Art, exh. cat., Loggiato S. Bartolomeo, Palermo, 1998, p. 31 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in James Rosenquist’s signature billboard format, Highway Temple, 1979, is emblematic of the artist’s distinctive ability to utilize advertising imagery to present a poignant commentary on the pervasive power of marketing in contemporary American culture. Featuring one of Rosenquist’s most iconic motifs, the automobile, the painting depicts a building pile of a bubble-gum pink substance into a silver car window; affixed to the canvas is a three-dimensional element in the form of a vibrant red wooden ladder, furthering the work’s resemblance to a highway billboard. The artist used the same source image—a cropped and magnified magazine advertisement for Velveeta macaroni and cheese—in three works in the mid to late 1970s, including Chocolate Highway Trust and Highway Trust, 1977, though the present painting is the only one to evoke the ladder in Robert Rauschenberg’s Winter Pool, 1959, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Though Rosenquist made his reputation as a seminal figure of Pop Art in the early 1960s, Highway Temple embodies the artist’s interest in the enigmatic scenes of Surrealism: its hypnotizing combination of promotional imagery confuses the viewer as to where one advertisement ends and where the other begins, a suiting metaphor for a contemporary culture dominated by consumerism and commercialism.

    After studying Studio Art at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Rosenquist began painting billboards in Saint Louis in 1954 for Corby’s Whiskey and promotional signs in Minneapolis for Coca-Cola, Northwest Airlines, and the film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. A few years later, the artist returned to the craft, painting numerous automobile advertisements on Minneapolis building exteriors and other billboards in New York before becoming the head painter at Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation at 25 years old. Though he quit outdoor sign painting in 1960, his experience painting large-scale advertisements inspired him to swim against the Abstract Expressionist current and conspicuously influenced the rest of his oeuvre. "I had to manipulate the paint well enough to sell a product. I had to make food look delicious and cigarettes seem smokable... Then, I began to realize that my style of painting billboards had an accuracy and a grandeur,” Rosenquist reflected. “I had a real thrust and thought—how can I use these magnified fragments to make an abstract painting? I thought I could change people's heads around by forcing them to identify these fragments at a certain rate of speed. It was a way to put mystery into my art... Everyone [else] was smearing and splashing. I knew that whatever I did my art wasn't going to look like everyone else's" (James Rosenquist, quoted in Judith Goldman, James Rosenquist: The Early Pictures 1961-1964, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1992, pp. 91, 98-100).

    In addition to using the automobile as a key symbol of the technologically advanced, mythologized American lifestyle, Highway Temple evokes Rosenquist’s youth in Minnesota, where his father managed a Mobil gasoline station and the artist developed a deep childhood interest in classic cars and highways. After moving to Manhattan in his adult life, Rosenquist frequently experienced pangs of nostalgia triggered by the sight of cars speeding by, a sentiment also captured in I Love You with My Ford, 1961, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. “I was brought up with automobiles,” Rosenquist recalled in a 1972 interview with Jeanne Siegel, “and I used to know the names of all of them. I came… to New York and I didn’t know anything that was stylish. I found myself standing on the corner, and [seeing cars] going by, and I couldn’t recognize anything and… I began to feel that what was precious... was what I could remember” (James Rosenquist, quoted in Jeanne Siegel, “An Interview with James Rosenquist”, ArtForum, vol. 10, no. 10, Summer 1972, pp. 30-32). Furthering Highway Temple’s sense of 1950s nostalgia is the inspiration behind it, which was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which allocated 26 billion dollars to the construction of a comprehensive network of national interstate highways that would span the country. Indeed, a sense of construction, advancement, and progress is captured in the slow-pouring sludge of Highway Temple, which mimics the consistency of cement.

    Perhaps, then, the billboard-sized scale and ladder of Highway Temple are an ode to his six years spent on a ladder painting outdoor advertisements, and—to a greater extent—the cars, foods, and signs that characterized American middle-class life. By using an uncanny fusion of images, the work undermines the standard aims of commercialism and encourages a more ruminative study of the objects and ideas that come to define a generation. It is likely that Rosenquist selected the name Highway Temple from J.M.W. Turner’s The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius Restored, 1814-1816—a monumental vision of a Greek wedding procession in front of now-destroyed ancient temple—which was owned by Rosenquist’s friend Richard Feigen and was one of the artist’s favorite paintings. In this sense, just as the temple of Jupiter was an unfathomable achievement for the Greeks, Rosenquist’s painting is a temple to the interstate highway system, one of the largest-scale national developments of the 20th century, and the modern American experience.


Highway Temple

signed, titled and dated ““HIGHWAY TEMPLE" James Rosenquist 1979" on the reverse
oil and painted wood on canvas on panel
36 x 84 x 2 1/4 in. (91.4 x 213.4 x 5.7 cm.)
Executed in 1979.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $740,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019