In search of the New York of his youth, he suggests we go to the Stage Deli to get a corned-beef sandwich and a soda pop, as he calls it. I tell Margarita, our chatty Peruvian waitress, that he’s a famous artist. She asks why no paintings of his are hanging here in the restaurant. […]
Thumbing through his memoir at our table, we come across a photograph taken in the Odeon’s basement, of the gallerist Leo Castelli surrounded by his powerhouse stable—Rosenquist (he’s with Acquavella Galleries now), Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Kelly, Serra, Johns, Oldenburg, and more. The photo makes him sad, thinking about artist peers he’s outlived. “They’re not around, they’re dead,” he says. “D-E-D, dead. Roy [Lichtenstein], Andy, Dan Flavin, Don Judd. I hate it. You can’t call them up for a recipe anymore because no one answers.”
A recipe? “Yeah, for rabbit-skin glue,” he says, which is used to prep a canvas for oil paints.
Other things have been lost, too. In April, a massive forest fire destroyed his home and studios in Aripeka, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. (He and his wife, writer Mimi Thompson, have also long had a five-story home here on Chambers Street.) Rosenquist estimates he lost about $14 million in artwork and print archives; he’d never taken out insurance in order to avoid the large premiums. “There it is, zilch, nothing,” he says. “A total wipeout. What happens is, one becomes nonmaterialistic. I think of my actions every day, what seems to be important and what isn’t.”