Pop Art Pioneer James Rosenquist’s Vibrant Prints Are Headed for the Auction Block

Phillips wants to re-introduce art collectors to one of Pop Art's leading artists.

Tomato sauce and atomic bombs collide in the work of the late artist James Rosenquist, whose collage paintings and prints helped define the Pop Art movement.

Four colorful prints placed together
James Rosenquist, F-111, 1974 Courtesy Phillips

While lesser known than Pop Art contemporaries like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Rosenquist’s legacy positions him as one of the great pioneers of the revolutionary movement, and in February, more than fifty prints created over the course of a decades-long career will be auctioned off by Phillips in the Works from the James Rosenquist Estate sale.

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It’s the largest sale of Rosenquist’s prints to date. A two-week-long public exhibition at Phillips ahead of the Feb. 15 auction will showcase the artwork, much of which was included in retrospectives at the Guggenheim and Cologne’s Museum Ludwig in 2003 and 2017 respectively, alongside source collages on loan from Rosenquist’s estate.

Print showing spaghetti in red sauce
James Rosenquist, Spaghetti, 1970. Courtesy Phillips

Rosenquist, who died in 2017, was born in North Dakota and moved to New York in the 1950s to study at the Arts Students League. He’d eventually draw inspiration from his early career in commercial sign painting, which informed both the capitalistic elements and domestic motifs found in much of his artwork.

Spaghetti, for example, was a common subject in his prints and paintings, appearing in several and even starring in his 1970 piece Spaghetti. While the artist was partial to the cheap meal, he also considered it “a manifestation of pure color and form,” according to Phillips.

Despite being frequently lumped in with other Pop Art figures like Warhol and Lichtenstein, Rosenquist maintained that the three emerged separately. “They call me a Pop artist because I use recognizable imagery. The critics like to group people together,” he said in a 2008 interview.

Print showing various lipstick cases
James Rosenquist, House of Fire, 1989. Courtesy Phillips

Innovation in the world of printmaking

Rosenquist’s later work took on elements of surrealism as the artist became interested in themes like nature and technology. He also began to dabble in the art of printmaking, as evidenced by the Welcome to Water series he worked on in the late 1980s while spending time with Ken Tyler of Tyler Graphics. His subsequent large-scale prints were a product of experimentation with new paper pulp, stencils and lithographic collages, and their creation required the production of new paper-making machinery and systems.

Phillips will offer a selection of prints from the series, including the 1989 Time Door D’Or and The Bird of Paradise Approaches the Hot Water Planet, which have respective high estimates of $15,000 and $12,000.

The artist additionally voiced concerns about social and political issues in works like his famed F-111 painting. The piece, currently at the Museum of Modern Art, spans 86 feet and features images of bomber planes, mushroom clouds, beach umbrellas and, of course, spaghetti. Created in response to U.S. militarism, a print edition of the work will be sold in the Phillips auction and is expected to fetch between $30,000 and $50,000. The print is divided into four sections, each named after the direction of the wall in Leo Castelli’s gallery where the painting was originally hung.

Phillips estimates the Rosenquist print auction will bring in between $265,000 and $410,000 and expects it will bring more attention to the sometimes overlooked artist. “It’s exciting to introduce these prints to a new group of collectors who are discovering Rosenquist for the first time and re-introduce him in this robust context to seasoned collectors and scholars,” said Cary Leibowitz and Kelly Troester, worldwide co-heads of editions at Phillips, in a joint statement.

Pop Art Pioneer James Rosenquist’s Vibrant Prints Are Headed for the Auction Block