THE SWIMMER IN THE ECONO-MIST
An extraordinary set of three paintings, The Swimmer in the Econo-Mist (1997–98) was commissioned for the Deutsche Guggenheim kunsthalle in Berlin, Germany. A history painting for the end of the millennium, this massive suite addresses the period following the collapse of the Berlin wall and end of the Cold War, as well as the interdependent nature of the global economy. The vortex of imagery and distorted shapes is a metaphor for unrest and change. The painting also refers to the wars that shaped the last century. For Rosenquist, the “econo-mist” is the torrent of cultural and economic activity of our times.
Rosenquist places the viewer within a panoramic space churned by the roaring spin cycle of imagery drawn from the history of art as well as from popular culture. Vortices of brightly colored laundry detergent boxes whirl across the canvas in The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #2. In The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #3, Rosenquist revisits motifs from his earlier paintings, including an image of the hair dryer used in his first monumental antiwar composition, F-111 (1964–65). In The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #1, fragments quoted from Pablo Picasso’s passionately antifascist mural Guernica (1937) are shown in contrast to a contemporary world of consumer products.
Seen as a whole, the swirling images hurtle across the large canvases. They move from black-and-white to vivid color, from abstraction to glimpses of realism, and from the mundane to the extraterrestrial, finally coming to a halt in The Swimmer in the Econo-mist (painting 3). Here, the sun rises in the red, yellow, and black colors of the German flag. Recalling an old Venetian proverb, Rosenquist explains, “‘The artist swims in the water, the critic stands ashore.’ So the swimmer is the active party. And the economy is a dream. It [The Swimmer in the Econo-mist] describes being immersed in a tumult.”
--Adapted from wall text written by Sarah C. Bancroft for the Guggenheim Museum's 2003 - 2005 traveling Rosenquist retrospective and Robert Rosenblum's, "An Interview with James Rosenquist" in James Rosenquist: The Swimmer in the Econo-mist, ex. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (1999: New York and Berlin)
The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #1
The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #2
The Swimmer in the Econo-mist #3
"There's an old Venetian saying, 'The artist swims in the water, the critic stands ashore.' So the swimmer is the active party. And the economy is a dream. It [The Swimmer in the Econo-mist] describes being immersed in a tumult."