Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective
Guest Writer: Melissa Gumbs
Running now through September 2 at the Art Institute of Chicago
BLAM! WHAAM! OH JEFF- I LOVE YOU TOO, BUT. . . The new exhibition at Chicago’s Art Institute shouts out at viewers who enter the gallery space. Looking like a comic book come alive to some, others will immediately recognize the work as belonging to Roy Lichtenstein, one of America’s most beloved artists since he first gained popularity during the 1960’s Pop Art movement. While art critics originally blasted the popular culture-centered movement as well as Lichtenstein himself (Life magazine featured a 1964 article entitled, ‘Is he the Worst Artist in the U.S.?’), the public embraced the fun and bright style and its creators. This incredibly large retrospective, the first since the artist’s death fifteen years ago, takes viewers through a journey of Lichtenstein’s extensive portfolio including many less recognized works and series.
The show opens with Lichtenstein’s large, Look Mickey painting, his first entry into the Pop Art world. The work, inspired by his son’s childhood book, employs the artist’s signature use of the primary colors with lighter values being achieved through his painting process which emulates printed Ben Day dots. While this piece displays many of the characteristics of the artist’s later work, absent is Lichtenstein’s use of heavy black outlines or more striking love and relationship themes seen in his most popular painting. Look Mickey represents Lichtenstein’s first major step in his Pop style development and it is fitting that it opens the show. The remainder of the extensive exhibition is separated into sections, each highlighting the various subjects and series Lichtenstein explored throughout his career, including his most famous War and Romance pieces depicting images of love-struck women in dramatic poses as well as his lesser known series dealing with mirrors, modern sculpture, and artist studios.
One of the most intriguing sections of the exhibition is Lichtenstein’s art history-inspired paintings. The artist had a vast knowledge and interest in the history of art and created a number of artworks as his response to well-known art works and styles. It is visually fascinating to witness how two artists took nearly identical subject matter and interpreted the image in their own exclusive style. Be aware, these aren’t parodies; they are not done for humorous results. Instead, they are an artist’s unique translations of artwork that inspired and interested him. Lichtenstein’s versions of celebrated works by Matisse, Monet, Brancusi, and American painter Gilbert Stuart among others, are all on display. The Art Institute has even created a guide for visitors interested in comparing many of these sister pieces. Entitled Connecting the Lichtenstein Dots, the online manual provides one-on-one visual comparisons between the artwork sources and Lichtenstein’s interpretations.
A truly magnificent show that spans rooms, this is not the exhibition to try to take in during a lunch break. Visitors should plan on taking at least an hour if not more, taking in the retrospective, in order to truly enjoy the large number of works that have been collected. This is also an exceptional art show to bring children. They will appreciate Lichtenstein’s use of color as well as his comic influences; the works are sure to provide a wonderful gateway leading into thoughtful conversations. Even the Lichtenstein nudes are stylized and accessible to most audiences.
Those interested should also note, the Art Institute is doing a number of promotional events in conjunction with the show including scheduled gallery talks and a website devoted to the exhibition. For more information please visit the site (http://roy.artic.edu). More importantly, make sure to find time and visit this amazing retrospective before it closes. The Art Institute has amassed an impressive collection of works, including many privately own and not often on display; it is a fitting tribute to Roy Lichtenstein’s legacy. Don’t miss it!