Credit line Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Jack E. Chachkes Endowed Purchase Fund, Saul Rosen Fund on behalf of Arthur G. Rosen, James Cohan and Anthony d'Offay
At a glance, Gravity’s Rainbow(Large) appears to be composed of looping jewel-like strands of colors, elegantly layered against a black background. Close inspection, however, reveals that to make this monumental work, Fred Tomaselli embedded thousands of pills—ranging from prescription pharmaceuticals to street drugs to colorfully painted placebos—along with magazine cutouts and hemp leaves, in layers of transparent resin. This dazzling pharmaceutical array alludes to the power of art, like that of recreational drugs, to alter our perceptions and transport us to other worlds. The title originates with Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 cult novel Gravity’s Rainbow, in which the phrase “gravity’s rainbow” refers to the arced trajectory of a V-2 rocket falling on war-torn London during World War II—a shape echoed in the graceful arcs spanning the work. This allusion to impending destruction parallels the metaphorical implications of Tomaselli’s pharmaceutical chains: the beauty that transports us in his image has a dark, toxic underside.