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Apr

14

By:

Taylor Zakarin

James Rosenquist (American, born 1933)
F-111, 1974
Four-section color lithograph
Each 36 x 75 inches
Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection

James Rosenquist began his career in 1955 as a commercial artist, painting billboards in New York City. By 1962, the artist was at the forefront of the Pop Art movement. He began to paint the original 86-foot long F-111 in 1964. It is important to note the cultural, social, and political happenings of this period - rapid changes were occurring, encouraging the previous overwhelming cultural homogeneity that authors like Sloan Wilson in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) and William H. Whyte in The Organization Man (1956) depicted as stultifying. Whyte lamented the passing of the ideology of rugged American individualism and the growing pressure to conform. The Company Man replaced the Marlboro Man, a symbol from 1954 until 1999 of the virile American smoker; and women were relegated to the caricature of robotic housewives, who dressed immaculately, wore pearls, were enamored with their household appliances, and catered to their husbands and children. Wilson and Whyte’s predictions proved prescient. The false veneer of the 1950s economic boom descended into chaotic nightmare in the 1960s, augmented by the searing rise of the Cold War, which came close to nuclear cataclysm in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Exempted by the “American Dream,” African Americans expanded the civil rights movement, which, together with the growing involvement in Vietnam under President John F. Kennedy, resulted in widespread unrest in the U.S. On June 11, 1963, just hours after President Kennedy’s “Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights,” in which the President insisted on the moral imperative of civil rights, the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back and killed. Five months later, JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963…one year later Rosenquist began this work.

The artist was inspired by other mural-sized works, and thus designed this piece to cover all the walls of the Leo Castelli Gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The artist has noted that he utilized the F-111 (the most technologically advanced weapon at the time) “flying through the flak of consumer society to question the collusion between the Vietnam death machine, consumerism, the media, and advertising.”

The work we have at NorthPark Center is a monumental lithograph of the same work by the artist. Its expansiveness across the wall associates it with the original mural painting. The full-scale F-111 is now on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, providing a kaleidoscopic view of American life in the mid-1970s including images of spaghetti, a runner’s hurdle, angel-food cake, a tire, light bulbs, and a girl under a hair dryer. The F-111, whose fuselage runs through the four sections of the print, collides and clashes with the depicted consumer products. The eye is led with increasing velocity through an atmosphere of commonplace images that altogether exemplify the rise of advertising and American consumerism in the 1950s and 1960s. In this panorama, technology and human elements are reconciled to exist together in our highly complex world. 

F-111 is located on Level One near Dillard's.

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