PRINT May 2012

Focus Preview

“Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective”

Roy Lichtenstein, Perfect Painting, 1986, oil and Magna on canvas, 70 3/8 x 100 1/8". © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Art Institute of Chicago
May 16–September 3
Curated by James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff

WE'RE SO FAMILIAR with the work of Roy Lichtenstein that we barely seem to know it at all. Sure, we can spot his Benday dots, comic-strip scenes, and elegantly rendered brushstrokes in a flash—but what happens when we slow down and really look at these, examining their iterations and mutations across his career? No simple binaries of high/low or form/content allowed: What do Lichtenstein’s images do? And how do his diversely eccentric materials (including Rowlux, velvet rope, Plexiglas, painted ceramic) and favored motifs (from teary-eyed beauties to architectural entablatures) enact those various operations?

“Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective,” which opens this month at the Art Institute of Chicago, affords the best opportunity in two decades to address these questions. Organized by the Art Institute’s James Rondeau together with Sheena Wagstaff, at the time chief curator of Tate Modern, under the aegis
of both institutions, the show constitutes the first full-scale presentation of Lichtenstein’s work since his 1993 survey at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York: More than one hundred paintings and sculptures and nearly four dozen drawings and collages will be featured, several never before publicly shown; additionally, a three-channel video transfer of the artist’s 1970 film installation Three Landscapes will be projected. Reaching back to his early-1950s American history scenes and ending with his Nudes and Chinese Landscapes of the mid- to late ’90s, the exhibition’s selection spans such heterogeneous intervening projects as his comics, single-object compositions, seascapes, and Explosions of the early and mid-’60s; his Mirrors of 1969–72; and abstractions both Perfect and Imperfect, 1978–88. With a particular focus on Lichtenstein’s inveterate art-historical scavenging, the curators revisit his brushes with Greek classicism, Cubism, and Native American landscapes, in the process unearthing such little-known gems as Unfurled (After Morris Louis), his 1973 take on the Color Field artist’s signature series.

By covering this wide range of works in depth—and including substantial selections of such lesser-known series as the Mirrors and Lichtenstein’s ecstatically kitschy Modern paintings and sculptures, 1966–70—the Chicago show offers the prospect of a new Lichtenstein, one less rooted in familiar marks and motifs and more wildly divergent in his pictorial and material investigations. The exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, featuring such noted critics and historians (and relative Lichtenstein neophytes) as Yve-Alain Bois, Harry Cooper, and Chrissie Iles among its nine contributors, augurs a similarly fresh set of perspectives on the artist’s career. Opening as Tate Modern’s Gerhard Richter blockbuster travels to its third and final venue (the Centre Pompidou in Paris), “Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” promises yet another long view on one of Pop’s founding fathers—and a ripe opportunity to think Pop itself anew.

Graham Bader

“Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” travels to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Oct. 14, 2012–Jan. 13, 2013; Tate Modern, London, Feb. 21–May 27, 2013; Centre Pompidou, Paris, July 3–Nov. 4, 2013.