New York Times


By Carol Vogel
Friday, December 6, 2013


“I hate getting old, but I’m sticking to it,” James Rosenquist announced at one of his two 80th birthday parties. Like Ellsworth Kelly, who turned 90 on May 31 and has had a succession of exhibitions and celebrations in his honor, Mr. Rosenquist is finding that the party isn’t over yet. While his actual birthday was on Nov. 29, one of his seminal paintings, “Through the Eye of the Needle to the Anvil,” has been on view since August at the North Dakota Museum of Art, in his hometown, Grand Forks. And if museum officials have their way, it will become part of its collection.

“There’s so much of North Dakota in that painting,” Laurel Reuter, the director of the museum, said in a telephone interview.

Because North Dakota weather is unpredictable this time of year, she said, the museum honored Mr. Rosenquist’s birthday early and held a party for him on Oct. 21. That’s when officials began thinking about raising money to buy the painting, which costs $3.5 million, Ms. Reuter said: “We have a few prints by him but no paintings.”

Putting “Through the Eye of the Needle to the Anvil” on view there was the brainchild of Judith Goldman, a curator and writer who persuaded Mr. Rosenquist to lend the museum the painting. Measuring 17 feet by 46 feet, it is one of several monumentally scaled canvases he has produced in his career. It depicts a variety of images, including a pair of sequined shoes perched on a pedestal and a blurry skull that holds a giant blooming flower; Mr. Rosenquist painted it in 1988 soon after his mother’s death.

“It’s one of his most important, ambitious paintings, and it’s autobiographical,” Ms. Goldman said.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Rosenquist said the painting’s title came from the notion that “the tiniest idea can grow into something big, like starting with the eye of a needle.” His mother, Ruth, was a pilot whose heroine was Amelia Earhart. Modern and daring for her time, she had what Mr. Rosenquist called “an adventurous beginning.”

He added: “The painting is also about glamour. And the flower at the base of the skull is about the part of the brain where ideas come from. It’s about this tiny little thread of a woman’s, or an artist’s, intuition that is hammered out on an anvil in cinema or dance or painting.”