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Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
James Rosenquist
Rosenquist, World's Fair MuralClick to larger image
James Rosenquist
World's Fair Mural, 1964
oil on Masonite
240 x 240 in.

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Andy, St. Cloud Tech H.S.
About the Art

In 1964, a World's Fair was held in New York. The architect, Philip Johnson, designed the New York State exhibition building for the fair. The building was shaped like a large circle and Johnson commissioned works by 10 well-known young American artists to attach to it. James Rosenquist was the youngest of the artists invited.

The 20-foot-square mural Rosenquist painted especially for this building is like many of his paintings during this time. It resembles a montage of billboard sections. Each individual image has it own meaning or associations, but Rosenquist was more interested in how they would work together to stimulate a response from the viewer. He said, "I'm interested in contemporary vision--the flick of chrome, reflections, rapid associations, quick flashes of light. Bing-bang! Bing-bang! I don't do anecdotes; I accumulate experiences."

This mural combines images that were seen frequently in 1964 advertisements or the news. Included are images of the World's Fair (carnival peanuts and soda pop), the space race, technology, and patriotism (Uncle Sam's hat) in a sort of icon of American popular culture. Rosenquist said, "I decided to make pictures of fragments, images that would spill off the canvas instead of recede into it.... I thought each fragment would be identified at a different rate of speed and that I would paint them as realistically as possible. Then I thought about the kind of imagery I'd use... I wanted to find images that were in a 'nether-nether-land.' Things that were a little out of style, but hadn't reached the state of nostalgia."

In the middle of these images you can see the words "Atwater, MN" which is the name of the city where James Rosenquist lived for a while when he was young. Rosenquist often includes words or images that have to do with his own memories or events that happened to him. His work is about his own identity and the identity of his country and era. In fact, in 1969, this work was selected for the cover of a French textbook on American civilization.

Vocabulary Terms

anecdote--A short story of some interesting or humorous incident.

icon--An image or representation of something that may be considered sacred or symbolic.

montage--The process of making one picture from many pictures or designs closely arranged or overlapping each other.

popular culture--The opposite of high cultural art forms, such as the opera, historic art, classical music, traditional theater or literature; popular culture includes many forms of cultural communication including newspapers, television, advertising, comics, pop music, radio, cheap novels, movies, jazz, etc. In the beginning of the 20th century, "high art" was the realm of the wealthy and educated classes while popular culture or "low art" was considered commercial entertainment for the lower classes. In the 1950s and 1960s the gulf between high and low art closed with the rise of Pop Art.

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Inner Worlds | What Is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons