Robert Cottingham is known for his paintings and prints of urban American landscapes, particularly building facades, neon signs, movie marquees, and shop fronts. Cottingham began his professional artistic career as an art director for the advertising firm Young and Rubicam in the early 1960s. Although he is typically associated with Photorealism, Cottingham never considered himself a Photorealist, but rather a realist painter working in a long tradition of American vernacular scenes. He does not view his works as mere painterly translations of photographs or reproductions of reality. He has been known to change the words in his facades to alter the meaning of the subject. His primary interest lies in the subject matter—the urban American vernacular—rather than the deployment of a photo-based technique.
Cottingham’s interest in the intersections of art and commerce derive from his career as an adman and the influence of Pop art. Many of his paintings convey an interest in typography and lettering, as well as an awareness of the psychological impact of certain isolated words and letters. In his facades, techniques from advertising, namely cropping and enlarging, often produce words of enigmatic or comical resonance such as “Art,” “Ha,” or “Oh.” Cottingham’s enlarged sense of scale is reminiscent of James Rosenquist’s work, while his interest in text suggests the influence of Robert Indiana and Jasper Johns. In general, Cottingham viewed his work as continuing the legacy of Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, who also had a background in advertising.
His work has been included in significant group exhibitions, including Documenta in Kassel, and those at the Serpentine Gallery in London, Centre national d’art contemporain in Paris, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, a traveling exhibition at the National Museum of American Art (now Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, D.C., Samsung Museum of Modern Art in Seoul, and Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. Cottingham’s printed oeuvre was celebrated by a solo presentation at National Museum of American Art in 1998–99.
Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum