PRINT October 2003

Marcia Tucker

I had first seen Rosenquist’s work at Leo Castelli’s gallery in 1966 and thought that his huge works like F-111, with their unlikely juxtapositions of images, took a very different approach to painting. Then I started as associate curator at the Whitney sometime during the last months of 1968 and I was going to as many artists’ studios as possible. I could tell that something unusual was in the air, an eccentric view of what art might be. It’s important to remember that there was a huge amount of interest in phenomenology in the art world at that time. Everyone was reading Merleau-Ponty’s Signs (1964), and people were very excited by the idea that art didn’t have to be about what you perceived but about the very act of perception. This interest largely manifested itself in sculpture, like Bruce Nauman’s early work, for example—thinking about art not in terms of objects but as a catalyst for experience on the part of the viewer. I remember Richard Serra sitting in my loft around this time and saying, “Forget it. Painting is dead.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, Richard, for a sculptor of course it is!” But I started to think about that, about whether painting was doomed to tradition, bound to illusion.

When I began to organize an exhibition with James Monte called “Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials,” which was all about this new kind of sculpture, it became clear to me that Rosenquist’s painting operated in a very similar way. It was neither abstract nor nonobjective, but it was doing something different with images to create a nonnarrative structure, an unfamiliar one at that. At the same time, the painting was a painting: It didn’t pretend to be an image or picture of something else. One of the things that I especially liked about the work was that the experience of time, distance, and movement, as well as the concept of change, were embedded in it. And change—perceptual shifts, a sense of intense and fractured movement, fluctuations of scale, shifts in spatial relationships—isn’t something you normally think of in terms of painting, at least when it comes to narrative painting or nonobjective painting. This dynamic also had a great deal to do with process—not the process of applying paint but the process of making something, of sharing this experience with the viewer. It was a startling discovery for me, a very thought-provoking one, and it certainly expanded the possibilities of painting as I saw it.

Marcia Tucker founded the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, in 1977, and served as its director until 1999. She teaches at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, and is currently writing a memoir.