New York

James Rosenquist

Castelli Gallery

That James Rosenquist still entertains the possibility of creating a fully realized mural scale art (subsequent to his F-111 exhibited last year at the Metropolitan Museum) is once again evidenced by his recent showing at the Castelli Gallery of a new room-filling set of panels called Horse Blinders. The multi-partite work is composed of canvases sprayed and painted with giant photo-montage images and fragments of illusionistic texturing, and of intermediary aluminum corner sections, also partially covered with images. A brush of electrical cable wires, knotholed wood simulations, soupy marbleized atmosphere and cloudy purple or magenta blobs, as well as dissolving appliance parts, a melting lump of butter, and a rainbow finger make up the recognizable material of the panels, though the images themselves are certainly less discernible and more abstracted than those in the F-111 or in many earlier small works.

More formally purposeful than the previous thematic program (the fuselage of the giant airplane that gave the mural its name) of F-111, the aluminum corners of Horse Blinders tend to join images and even emphasize spatial continuity through reflections. The whole thus makes more physical sense, even though it surrounds three, and parts of a fourth wall of a small gallery room, instead of being stretched out along a single plane. Half of an image may be repeated by its right-angled reflection, or the painted images may make illusionistic puns on the blurring effects of these reflections. But the yield of all these elaborate, ever more elegant and clever manipulations is still somewhat vain, to my view. The montage-simulation techniques continue to look crude on an expanded scale, and the banality of the subject matter, blown up to such gigantic proportions, does not ever really sustain itself in the face of that size or its ambitions. Rosenquist’s mélange of the campy—vulgarized coloration and corny simulated reproductions or semblances of our mass-produced esthetic horrors—and of the heroic aspiration to make a significant muralesque art seems doomed to self-compromise by the very terms of that combination. Ignoble content (though of course deliberate) constantly works to arrest and undermine what appears to be the aim of the range or scaling of the work. Horse Blinders is probably the best looking Rosenquist I’ve seen in the past several years, but I could not escape the overriding sense of its inflated self-importance, and of its regretful loss of pungency in inverse proportion to this enlargement.

Emily Wasserman