Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Whaam!, 1963. Magna and oil on canvas. 172.7 x 406.4 cm (68 x 160 in). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Tate: Purchased 1966. Photo ©Tate, 2011.
The Art Institute of Chicago presents a colorful exhibition of old favorites and lesser-known works in Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, opening to the public on Tuesday, May 22. The retrospective samples five decades and over 160 works by Lichtenstein (1923-1997) grouping bodies of work into familiar categories of the artists’ oeuvre, i.e., cartoon and comic paintings that staked his place in the Pop scene of '60s, a series in black and white, a variety of enlarged brushstroke paintings.
Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Look Mickey, 1961. Oil on canvas. 121.9 x 175.3 cm (48 x 69 in). © National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art. Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein, Gift of the artist, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery.
Many will recognize Lichtenstein’s more well-known works like Look Mickey (1961), Drowning Girl (1963), and others in his notable comic-like style of large halftone dots, but other bodies of work felt refreshing amidst the more familiar arenas – a grouping of bronze and brass Art Deco sculptures; a room filled with small drawings, sketches and studies for large paintings; a series of nudes and Chinese landscapes. These more obscure groupings were the highlights of the exhibition for me, a Lichtenstein fan, because they provided a glimpse into his career that I had not seen before. I’ve seen the large painting, Ohhh…Alright… (1964) several times, and while I still enjoy examining the canvas, I very much appreciated seeing the tiny study from which it stemmed.
Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Ohhh…Alright…, 1964. Oil and Magna on canvas. 91.4 x 96.5 cm (36 x 38 in). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.
Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923 and studied at New York’s Art Students League prior to attending Ohio State University where he earned both his BFA (1946) and MFA (1949). Before completing his studies, Lichtenstein was drafted in 1943 to serve in the U.S. Army, where he was on active duty in Europe beginning in 1945. When he returned from the Army, he attended and taught at Ohio State until 1951 when he married and moved to Cleveland. After several successful shows and a gaining reputation in the artworld, Lichtenstein returned to New York and continued making work.
Like other Pop artists, Lichtenstein’s work blends characteristics from seemingly far different realms: fine art, mass media, advertising, comics. Lichtenstein continued to combine these different characteristics throughout his career with the use of large Benday / halftone dots seen in work that was done early in his career through some of the last series the artist completed in the nineties. The Brushstrokes series is a prime example of the pairing of mass media with fine art. In his large canvases, Lichtenstein depicts expressionist brushstrokes, drips and splatters. From a distance, those gestural marks are the first thing the viewer picks up on, but upon closer inspection, the halftone dots come into focus as does the juxtaposition of the almighty Abstract Expressionist marks against the dot pattern used in mass-produced print materials. It is this kind of unconventional pairing in Lichtenstein’s work that appeals to me, while examining what is depicted and how it is depicted.
Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Brushstroke with Spatter, 1966. Oil and Magna on canvas. 121.9 x 152.4 cm (68 x 80 in). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Art Institute of Chicago, Barbara Neff Smith and Solomon Byron Smith Purchase Fund.
James Rondeau, Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute states “Lichtenstein is rightly recognized for being a foundational Pop artist who created some of the most iconic works of the 20th century. But these works – the comic strips, the war imagery – represent only part of Lichtenstein’s decades-long career. Our aim with this exhibition is to explore the full range of absorbing contradictions at the heart of Lichtenstein’s work – starting with the paradox that Lichtenstein systematically dismantled the history of modern art while becoming a fixture in that canon. Lichtenstein, we hope to show, was a profoundly radical artist with a lasting impact on the history of 20th-century art.”
Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Landscape in Fog, 1996. Oil and Magna on canvas. 180.3 x 207.6 cm (71 x 81.75 in). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.
Following its run at the Art Institute through September 3, the retrospective will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Tate Modern, London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Art Institute member days for Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective have been extended through Friday, May 18. The museum will be closed to the public during the NATO summit, from Saturday, May 19 through Monday, May 21, and the public opening date for the retrospective is Tuesday, May 22, 2012.
Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective
May 22 - September 3, 2012
The Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603
Roy Lichtenstein, American (1923-1997). Untitled, 1959. Oil on canvas. 86.5 x 71.3 cm (34.0625 x 28.0625 in). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.