Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago opens to the public on May 22 in a “dazzling array of color and dynamism.” The range of his work is well represented in the more than 160 works selected for this exhibition by co-curators James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago and Sheena Wagstaff, Chief Curator of Tate Modern in London.
Early in his career, Lichtenstein asserted, “My primary purpose in painting is to create an integrated organization of visual elements.” After a decade struggling as an artist and teacher, he ironically acknowledged hard won recognition with “Masterpiece” (1962) in which he incorporated text and image, a device he admired in comic strips. Using thick outlines and bold color, he eliminated extraneous elements and transformed familiar images by comic book artists including Jack Kirby, Russ Heath, Tony Abruzzo, Ive Novick, and Jerry Granddenetti in works illustrating romance, war, explosions, landscapes, nudes, and heroes.
“Look Mickey” (1961), inspired by a Golden Book illustration, incorporated a bold claim representing the artist’s recognition that he was on to something with his distinctive Pop Art form. It garnered fame for Lichtenstein when it was shown in 1982 though it provoked harsh criticism as well.
This work is a dramatic contrast to “Untitled” (abstraction) 1960, a work he created when he was finding his own voice acknowledging that he was temperamentally unsuited to abstract expressionism.
While his appropriation and transformation of comic book panels were the key to his acclaim as a star in the Pop Art galaxy, Lichtenstein also was inspired by works of celebrated artists. The Retrospective’s “Art History” and “Artist Studio” sections, where ‘The Artist’s Studio: Foot Medication”’ (1974) is shown, feature examples of his homage as well as parody of famous predecessors including Picasso, Mondrian, Monet, Matisse, deKooning, and Brancusi. His forays into sculpture were efforts to create 2-D variations of 3-D objects, nicely illustrated by “Sleeping Muse” 1983.
In his renditions of objects selected from print advertisements like “Cup of Coffee,” and “Washing Machine” (1961), the artist used minimal lines to convey information. He produced images which expose the coded graphic language of commercial printing and convey aspects of consumerism without symbolic significance. He envisioned “a vernacular subject being brought into high art.” These paintings were the result of an elaborate process. Starting with a mass-produced print image from a newspaper, he drew a free-hand version. He projected the drawing, greatly enlarged onto a canvas and traced the image, which he then painted. He utilized Ben-Day dots to represent certain colors or shadows, as if created by photographic reproduction. To produce these dots he devised a stencil: a pre-cut sheet of perforated metal, a tool which studio assistants could use to apply colors he chose.
Near the end of his career he found inspiration in reproductions in a catalog of Chinese Song Dynasty paintings. He admired the spare technique used by Song artists and his versions of these exquisite works utilized dots to represent landscape and water while brushy strokes of blue paint evoked a patch of fog in “Landscape in Fog” (1996).
An informative Acoustiguide focuses attention on 27 objects in the exhibition and highlights “the paradox of an artist’s hand in an age of commercial printing.” An extensive catalog complements the exhibition.
The Bank of America is the global sponsor of Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, which was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern, London,. It is scheduled to travel to the National Gallery, Washington, DC, ( October 14, 2012--January 13, 2013), Tate Modern, London, ( February 21--May 27, 2013) and the Centre Pompidou, Paris (July 3--November 4, 2013).
Art Institute of Chicago
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Photos: D. Shah