Chicago

Roy Lichtenstein

Going on the evidence of these last drawings and sculptures, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to propose a revolutionary late style for Roy Lichtenstein. If these works depart in any significant way from others in his oeuvre, it is only in pushing his fundamentally amiable sensibility up a notch to what might be described as honeyed. Certainly they confirm Lichtenstein’s lifelong strategy of pursuing the revelatory possibilities within a thoughtful and engaged equanimity.

Almost all of Lichtenstein’s subject matter here is taken from domestic settings, from small drawings examining living rooms to a sculpture and other drawings depicting the exteriors of modest houses. In the interior studies—none is as much as six inches in height or width Lichtenstein’s pencils pay homage to middle-class comfort. The rooms are there to crawl into and rest, with inviting furniture, cheery artwork (often his own) on the walls, all the just-so amenities that purport to make a house a home; they seem to give the viewer a big hug. While most of these sites are at least momentarily unoccupied, several of the works show a female figure exiting, almost cropped out of the picture. But she takes center stage in one drawing, Interior with Woman, 1997. In pensive profile with a hand to her chin, unaware of our presence, she functions as one more adornment, and hints at a double edge to these works: cozy gemütlichkeit turning to claustrophobic gentility.

In Interior with Bouquet, 1997—even the titles are Bonnardlike—Lichtenstein’s curiously dispassionate line, the manner in which he can appear both schematic and fussy, is mesmerizing. His attentiveness to details, such as the orthogonals of the door, the patient hatching to indicate tone, and his sparse but beautiful employ of just a few colored pencils, brings this room toward a kind of fantasy setting. In a few square inches Lichtenstein takes stock of a wistful escapism, with a fire crackling in the hearth, fragrant flowers perfuming the air, an inviting chair and couch, the book just waiting upon the table, all present and accounted for. Above the fireplace Lichtenstein hangs a picture of a house, the image of which is the subject of several other works in this exhibition. Very small in size—and seemingly too modest in scale and articulation to contain one of these generous, though not sumptuous, interiors—the utilitarian structure appears in Lichtenstein’s hands as noble as some foursquare Greek temple on a hill. Like his interiors, this house is a kind of signage, an icon of American satiety. It is so warmly and straightforwardly summoned as to disarm an ironic reading. Lichtenstein’s identification of home as the final residence of human desire, myth, vulnerability, and aspiration is a consistent coda for a life superbly attuned to recognizing and unmasking the anxieties behind such conceptions.

James Yood