The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition in the Pompidou Museum, Paris, is part of a world tour that started in May 2012 in Chicago, curated by James Rondeau. After missing it in the Tate Modern, London, earlier this year I seized my chance in Paris this summer.
Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923-97) most famous, and arguably greatest works, are of course the blown-up comic-strip images, complete with Ben-Day dots, explosions and teary women. They have an iconicity and presence which strike a chord in the most ignorant of viewers, a power which is only multiplied when seen in person. However, although famous works such as Wham (1963) feature in this exhibition, other more surprising elements can also be found. The exhibition aims to document the entirety of his evolving, experimental artistic career; from the first comic-book and 1960s pop culture paintings, to the works that draw inspiration from the masters of modern painting and classical art. This exhibition offers a new take on the career of a leading figure of the postwar art scene.
His interest in different media is instantly evident; along with his paintings, ‘brass-n-glass’ sculptures, collages, and sketches appear throughout the exhibition, showing Lichtenstein playing with the now familiar ‘pop’ style with numerous mediums, textures and subject. I was surprised to see that the famous ‘Crying Girl’ for example was in fact painted on steel, and the startling sculptures gave a new slant to the movement. Such revelations were pleasantly unexpected from an artist who I had previously thought of as, quite literally, two dimensional. This exhibition instead showed how Lichtenstein aimed to create work which blurred the lines between figurative and abstract art, between pictorial and 3-dimensional objects. He wanted his art to be the subject, not just about it, turning an image into an altered version of itself. I learnt that he painted mirrors which was intriguing; how can a mirror be accurately reproduced as it only reflects what is in front of it? The resulting pieces of work, despite being uninspiring in isolation, demonstrate the fascination he had for the power of the subject, what it means to transform object into art. This is something we see later in the exhibition, when his painting ‘Artist’s Studio No. 1’ self-consciously displays previous paintings, images, and objects that Lichenstein turned into art; a painting within a painting, art within an object, object within art.
Later in his life, Lichtenstein experimented with parodies toward artists such as Monet, Picasso, and Matisse, adapting their style to fit with his own ‘Pop Art’ flair. I particularly enjoyed the work seen even later in his career, when he returned to the traditional genres of classical painting: the nude, still-life and landscape. His Chinese landscapes were particularly spectacular to behold. Using his signature ben-day dot, Lichentstein was able to create breathtakingly beautiful pastel landscape scenes harking back to traditional Chinese landscapes. In this final room of the exhibition, the Comic-book work for which he is famous seem far removed indeed. An artist who, to the end, pushed the boundaries of his own pop-inspired visual style.