When considering the importance and meaning of an artwork, nothing can replace the artist’s own words. Luckily, Vanity Unfair for Gordon Matta Clark is an important work that not only carries a deeply personal meaning for the artist but also holds the distinction of being in one of the 20th century’s most important collections of Contemporary and Pop Art. Thus, providing a richly documented history to inform our appreciation of this work.
In his book, Paintings Below Zero, Rosenquist shares the deeply personal context that shapes Vanity Unfair for Gordon Matta Clark, and explains that “sometimes memory of an old friend who dies young evokes a constellation of images.” This was the case when Rosenquist’s friend Gordon Matta-Clark passed at the age of thirty-five in 1978, and this layered creation brings together the symbolic imagery of Matta-Clark’s constellation.
Gordon Matta-Clark was an innovative photographer who would cut through a building’s walls in order to photograph dizzying views of the space. Unfortunately, this technique exposed him to toxic materials that led to Matta-Clark’s passing from pancreatic cancer right at the height of his career. For Rosenquist, the impact of losing a friend was made even more poignant by the fact that it was his art that brought on this poor fate. To cope, Rosenquist created Vanity Unfair for Gordon Matta Clark and combined the imagery that would help process Rosenquist’s grief:
The image at the bottom of the painting is his mailbox – 35 being his mailbox number – with the mail never collected. The blueprint of a building, a fork, a pair of scissors for his life being cut short.
While the painting may have somber origins, it still employs the vibrant colors and large, recognizable imagery that defines Rosenquist’s artistic output. What is less typical of Rosenquist’s work is the sculptural element found in this painting – perhaps this was included as a tribute to Matta-Clark’s own focus on architectural imagery. Either way, the final execution of this painting yielded an appealing artwork that was true to the artist’s oeuvre while also conveying a movingly emotional commemoration.
The painting was indeed a successful endeavor for Rosenquist, and it was distinguished by its quick inclusion in the important Gloria Luria Collection in Miami, Florida. Luria dedicated her life to fostering a thriving culture in Southern Florida and helped bring Art Miami, to the Miami Beach Convention Center. As Luria once said, “Best of all, the paintings let me dream,” and she collected the works that inspired her to do so. In 2019, her contributions to the Miami arts community were recognized by the Pérez Art Museum during their Annual International Women’s Committee Luncheon, and Heather James Fine Art is honored to have received this work directly from the Gloria Luria Collection
James Rosenquist with Gloria Luria and her husband.
James Rosenquist in front of Vanity Unfair for Gordon Matta Clark.
Source for Vanity Unfair (To Gordon Matta-Clark), 1978. Collage and mixed media on paper, with adventitious marks. 19 1/2″ x 19 7/8″ (49.5 x 50.5 cm). Collection of the Estate of James Rosenquist
Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque, 1977 – now part of the Guggenheim’s photography collection.
- The graph by Art Market Research shows that in the last 20 years, Rosenquist paintings have increased at an 7.4% annual rate of return
- Still, the Rosenquist market is relatively undervalued when compared to his Pop art contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein
- Rosenquist paintings from the 1970s and ‘80s have room to reach full price realization. As collectors and museums continue to acquire pieces from the 1960s, works from the 1980s will likely increase in value.