Pop art was defined, refined, and ultimately blown wide open by American artist Roy Lichtenstein (19231997). In the first major exhibition since his death, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective will include more than 100 of the artist's greatest paintings from all periods of his career, along with a selection of related drawings and sculptures. On view in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art
, Washington, from October 14, 2012, through January 13, 2013, the exhibition presents Lichtenstein's expansive legacy, including the classic early pop paintings based on advertisements and comic-book treatments of war and romance, his versions of paintings by the modern masters, and series including Brushstrokes, Mirrors, Artist's Studios, Nudes, and Landscapes in a Chinese Style.
Over the course of his career, Lichtenstein's work has been the subject of more than 240 solo exhibitions, the last full survey having been organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1993.
The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, and Tate Modern, London, in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Following the National Gallery presentation, the exhibition will be on view at Tate from February 21 through May 27, 2013. Centre Pompidou in Paris will host a smaller version of the exhibition from July 3 through November 4, 2013.
"With his unique combination of technical invention, deadpan humor, and cultural daring, Roy Lichtenstein moved the line between commercial and fine art and changed the way we look at our world. It is impossible to imagine contemporary art without his signature dots. We are delighted to be able to honor the career of this iconic artist with this major exhibition," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. "This retrospective will allow our visitors to revisit Lichtenstein's familiar works and examine those rarely seen. Given his use of art history in so much of his work, the exhibition at the Gallery puts this 20th-century master in a broader context."
Although many pop artists explored similar subject matter, what distinguished Lichtenstein was his use of hand-painted yet mechanical-looking dots to create areas of tone and color, which would eventually become his signature technique. The National Gallery's own Look Mickey (1961) is an early example of this method and will open the exhibition. Considered by Lichtenstein to be his first pop painting (which he donated, with Dorothy Lichtenstein, in 1990 in honor of the Gallery's 50th anniversary), Look Mickey pioneered the artist's now-famous combination of comic-book themes and the look of commercial printing processes.
The exhibition will be arranged chronologically and thematically, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of Lichtenstein's work.
Entablatures: On view on the Mezzanine outside the entrance to the exhibition, the Entablatures depict the architrave, cornice, and frieze that derive from classical motifs on institutional buildings in and around New York City's Wall Street. Like so many of his interpretations of man-made world around him, these paintings are starkly simplified and reprocessed. They can be divided into black-and-white works (19711972) and later works in color (19741976).
Early Pop: After completing several canvases with identifiable comic-book characters, Lichtenstein moved on to subject matter taken from other forms of printed media, including advertisements, telephone books, and catalogues. Rendered with a limited palette (red, yellow, black, and white), Keds (1961) depicts a larger-than-life pair of sneakers from a Sears, Roebuck, & Co. advertisement; and Cup of Coffee (1961) and Hot Dog with Mustard (1963) are idealized versions of their real-life counterparts.
Black and White: Lichtenstein experimented with a series of paintings without pop color or narrativelarge black-and-white works depicting ordinary, everyday objects. Here the painted canvas was itself sometimes treated as an object, as in Portable Radio (1962), which includes a functional leather strap, and Compositions I (1964), a very large facsimile of a student notebook. In 1962 Lichtenstein transitioned to machine-made, perforated metal screens, through which he painted his trademark dots.
War and Romance: Lichtenstein is best known for his series of large-scale works of distressed young women and daring young men derived from war and romance comics. He was fascinated by the contrast between the emotional intensity of the stories found in comics and his own deadpan, mechanical style. The sentimental young romance of We Rose Up Slowly (1964) and the violence of war in Whaam! (1963) point to stereotypical representations of gender in the mass media. Male protagonistsfeatured in dramatic close-ups in Torpedo
LOS! (1963) and Bratatat! (1962)contrast with Lichtenstein's clichéd depictions of vulnerable women during moments of high tension.
Brushstrokes: Early in his career, Lichtenstein experimented with abstract expressionism, but he soon abandoned the style. Later, with his signature pop art style, Lichtenstein returned to the motif of the brushstrokethe predominant feature in abstract expressionist works and arguably the core of painting itself. In Little Big Painting (1965), Lichtenstein created a dense layering of cartoony brushstrokes, while in Brushstroke Abstraction I (1996), the brushstrokes appear as graffiti juxtaposed with the dots and diagonals that were the basic building blocks of Lichtenstein's pop vocabulary.
Landscape: One of the first genres that Lichtenstein turned to following his comic-inspired pop breakthrough, the Landscape paintings contain his trademark halftone dots but their compositions are pared down to basic elements. The works range from strongly representational paintings such as Sunrise (1965) to almost completely abstract works such as Seascape (1964).
Modern: Lichtenstein's 1966 poster design for New York City's Lincoln Center was inspired by the architecture and design of the late 1920s and 1930sthe style of earlier performing arts palaces such as Radio City Music Hall. This poster initiated a series that parodied art decowhich Lichtenstein acidly described as "Cubism for the Home"in which he isolated and recreated decorative motifs of the era, such as brass ornamentation and geometric reliefs. This series includes three-dimensional works such as Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope (1968).
Art History: Throughout his career, Lichtenstein applied his comic style to create versions of impressionist, cubist, futurist, surrealist, and German expressionist works. In some cases, he worked from a particular painting; in othersGrapes (1972) and Still Life with Glass and Peeled Lemon (1972)he worked with generalized conventions of a genre, always rephrasing a source in his own language. Washington Crossing the Delaware I (c. 1951), the earliest work in the exhibition, translates Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's well-known oil painting from 1851 into faux-naive, cubist-inspired style Lichtenstein employed in the 1950s. During the heyday of his comic-inspired pop works, the artist was simultaneously producing compositions that appropriated the imagery of Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso.
Mirrors: Lichtenstein's choice of mirrors as a subject is one of the artist's references to art historyJan van Eyck and Diego Velázquez famously depicted mirrors in their work. The convincing representation of a reflecting mirror has long been a sign of technical virtuosity. In 1969 Lichtenstein began his first Mirror and by 1972 he had completed almost 50 variations. Surprisingly, his mirrors reflect nothing except the play of light and reflection; in his Self-Portrait (1978), the artist's face is replaced by such a mirror.
Artist's Studios: In this monumental series, inspired by Henri Matisse's painting Red Studio (1911), Lichtenstein created a purely imaginary interior realm in which to inventory his images. In Artist's Studio "Look Mickey" (1973) Lichtenstein references individual works (including Look Mickey), and series (Entablatures, Mirrors). This exhibition tour is the first time the four life-size Artist's Studios canvases have been on view together since the exhibition Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist's Studio, held in 1974 at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.
Perfect/Imperfect: The paintings in this series, made between 1979 and 1989, are Lichtenstein's first and last complete abstractions, his only pop works that do not depict anything. Rather than being based on preliminary sketches derived from mass-produced images, the Perfect/Imperfect works were invented and plotted on graph paper. Line is the primary structural element, forming webs of shapes filled with areas of dots, diagonal lines, and flat color. In the Imperfect paintings, a "mistake" in planning causes the lines to exceed the bounds of the rectangular canvas, resulting in triangular protuberances.
Nudes: Unlike traditional depictions based on live models, the women in Lichtenstein's Nudes series are inventions with origins traceable to the artist's archive of comic-book clippings, some dating back to the 1960s. Often the worksincluding Nudes with Beach Ball (1994) and Two Nudes (1995)are composites of figures drawn from multiple panels, lacking narrative connection. These lesser-known works are a challenge to the chaste conventions of classic comic books, and a surprising departure in Lichtenstein's career.
Landscapes in a Chinese Style: Lichtenstein returned to the landscape genre in 1995, creating a powerful series of more than 20 works that appropriate motifs of the classical landscape painting of the Song dynasty (9601279). In these highly stylized scenes, he recognized a painterly language distilled into codes and rules, and then translated this into his own style, seen in Treetops through the Fog (1996). Although Lichtenstein had been exposed to Chinese art as a student at Ohio State University in the late 1940s, the primary inspiration for this series was a group of monotype and pastel landscapes by Edgar Degas that he saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994.