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EMPTIED GESTURE: ROY LICHTENSTEIN’S “BRUSHSTROKES”

REVIEWING THE 1961 PITTSBURGH TRIENNIAL in the pages of Art International, William Rubin lamented the shallow ubiquity of gestural abstraction within both the show and contemporary painting more broadly. “The dominant avant-garde mode of painting in the late fifties,” he wrote, “(substantially the same throughout the world though known by different and confusing names, e.g., Abstract Expressionism, Tachism, etc.) seems to have allowed for less variety, less inventiveness, and less individual profile than any other major style in the history of modern art.”¹ No wonder, then, that when Roy Lichtenstein opened his inaugural Leo Castelli Gallery exhibition the following February, the abstract canvases he had recently made—built from broad bands of viscous color applied with a paint-soaked rag, and produced through the fall of 1960—were nowhere to be found. Instead, as is well known,

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