This exhibition on the art of Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997) included nearly 170 works made between 1950 and 1997, focusing on the artist’s achievements in painting, sculpture, and drawing. It was the first major retrospective to broadly examine his art since his death.
Lichtenstein is a figure of monumental importance in the recent history of art. His contribution—the still-potent collision of commercial sources and fine art—defined the enduring legacy of Pop Art. The idea of compositional unity was central to the artist’s thinking. Plastic values such as beauty and balance were of primary importance to Lichtenstein, and reliable formal tropes—outlines, halftone dots, and solid diagonals—were the building blocks of nearly all his compositions.
The first phase of Lichtenstein’s mature career was defined by his “cartoon” mode. After 1966 he applied his comic style to a broad range of found imagery. The artist almost always began with a two-dimensional source, often a comic image or another readily distillable form of printed mass communication. He then sketched the image, recomposing it to suit narrative clarity or formal ends. Subsequently, he traced the drawing onto canvas, continuing to make compositional adjustments, and then painted the work, sometimes with the aid of assistants.
The tactile sites—in print media—from which Lichtenstein’s art emerged are growing progressively extinct. More than 50 years after his opening salvo, his work seems wiser than ever in its insistence on the authority of the artificial. Ultimately, there is a profound radicalness in his project, more extreme than the initially transgressive embrace of pop culture. Impeccable sleight of hand is Lichtenstein’s revolutionary stance. In restating the mass-produced image by means of an insistently handmade, painterly process, he confounded the notion of the readymade and forever expanded and altered our understanding of how a painting can be made, how it should look, and how we define the artist in our society.
A major catalogue accompanied the exhibition and featured new scholarship by an international team of distinguished curators, critics, and art historians including James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Contemporary Art, and Sheena Wagstaff, chief curator at Tate Modern, London.
The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern, London.
Roy Lichtenstein traveled from Chicago to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in the fall of 2012 and then to Tate Modern, London in early 2013.
Major funding is provided by the Bette and Neison Harris Exhibitions Fund.
Major funding for the exhibition catalogue is generously provided by Kenneth and Anne Griffin and Cari and Michael J. Sacks.
Additional support provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. Annual support pro¬vided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, the Trott Family Foundation, and the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The exhibition in Chicago and Washington is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.