Pop art icon Lichtenstein gets U.S. retrospective

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Little Big Painting,” a 1965 oil and magna on canvas.

WASHINGTON: Roy Lichtenstein, the American painter whose comic book-inspired canvases gave the pop art movement some of its most vivid images, is getting his first major retrospective since his death 15 years ago.

Beginning Sunday, the National Gallery of Art in Washington will be exhibiting 130 of his paintings, drawings and sculptures, reflecting a long and prolific career that ended when he passed away at the age of 73.

The show moves to the Tate Modern museum in London next February and, in a less expansive form, to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in July.

Its curator Harry Cooper called Lichtenstein, a New York native, “one of the most popular” modern artists, alongside his pop art contemporary Andy Warhol.

“I don’t think he would want to be considered, above all, an American painter,” Cooper told AFP.

“He’s a great modern painter. He had a great visual culture, a great background, training in all the history of art,” he added.

The show begins with an early work, “Look Mickey,” gifted to the National Gallery of art by Lichtenstein in 1990.

The work depicts Donald Duck hooking his own tail while fishing on a pier with a guffawing Mickey Mouse.

It was an early example of Lichtenstein’s appropriation of benday dots – the tiny colored pixels that made possible the high-volume printing of pulp comic books in the 1950s and 1960s.

Lichtenstein’s intention, Cooper said, was to turn the language of comics into a work of art.

Also in the retrospective is “Whaam,” from 1963, arguably Lichtenstein’s best-known work.

The piece shows one fighter plane blowing up another in midair with a minimum of painterly detail and a maximum sense of impact.

“He doesn’t denounce, and he doesn’t celebrate, either,” Cooper said.

“We sometimes don’t know what the tone is, what the point of view is. That’s part of the definition of pop art ... a kind of removal of the artist.

Lichtenstein remains highly sought after by collectors.

Last November, Christie’s auction house sold his 1961 work “I Can See the Whole Room ... and There’s Nobody in It!” for a record $43.2 million dollars in New York.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 11, 2012, on page 16.




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