Lichtenstein’s ‘effortless’ work isn’t
> Thinking, artistic processes, influence on display at Dixon
Special to The Commercial Appeal
If you thought you knew Roy Lichtenstein, think again. The pop art icon gets a needed reappraisal in the exhibit, “Lichtenstein in Process,” which opens Sunday at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park.
Nearly 70 works from the 1970s-1990s, including almost 20 colorfully explosive collages, frame the show, which presents the preliminary drafts that went into Lichtenstein’s seemingly effortless — tossed-off, to harsher critics — finished works of art.
“The show is all about Lichtenstein’s working process, his thinking process and his artistic process,” says Dixon curatorial assistant Julie Pierotti. “It really shows his skills as a draftsman in addition to a painter (and) you can see that his work comes from serious sources.”
If anything, Lichtenstein (1923-1997), infamous in his day for not only appropriating popular/commercial imagery in his work but daring to elevate such sensibility to fine art, is more relevant now than ever, the prescient voice of what has become our age of cultural bricolage. The Dixon show — which runs through Jan. 17, 2010 — also re-brands the high-low dichotomy of Lichtenstein’s language into something that is ultimately American in character, another reason why his art continues to inform and connect the way it does.
“He’s an artist’s artist,” says Dixon director Kevin Sharp. “Even the things that come from highly pop sources, in Lichtenstein’s mind, he was just appropriating art. It’s really hard to over-emphasize the influence Lichtenstein had on his own generation, to be sure, but also on the post-moderns that come later.”
Originally organized by Madrid’s Fundación Juan March in conjunction with New York’s Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, the exhibit recently made its American debut at the Katonah Museum of Art in Bedford, N.Y., before heading to Memphis. Katonah and the Dixon have, in fact, been sharing programs, so on the same day that Lichtenstein opens here, the hailed Dixon exhibit, “Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era,” opens at Katonah (Sharp will be in Bedford on Sunday to speak about the Whitman show he curated).
The Lichtenstein exhibit can be enjoyed on a number of levels, not the least as pure eye candy indulgence. But it also forces those who would dismiss his technique as lazy, pop-induced ephemera to reconsider the amount of decision-making that went into his art. By juxtaposing sketches and outlines with collages (works of art in their own right), one can no longer argue that Lichtenstein merely lifted his ideas from the funny papers. Rather, like all great artists, he used what was around him for inspiration, commentary, and, in Lichtenstein’s case, a
healthy amount of deconstructionist verve and wit. In that regard, he isn’t so different from generations of jazz players who have used musical quotation as part of the improvisational process — take away the quote and there’s a lot less to talk about all of a sudden.
The Lichtenstein exhibit is complimented by a concurrent display, “Carry Me! Lucite Handbags from the Caryn Scheidt Collection,” which presents some 150 handbags from the 1950s in the first such show of its kind, according to Sharp. Given the creative designs encouraged by Lucite’s then-cutting-edge technology, the avant-garde glamour of the handbags is at times as modernist as any Lichtenstein painting — functionality taken to artful extremes.
Roy Lichtenstein dared to elevate commercial and popular elements to fine art, as in ‘‘Collage for The Sower’’ (above) from 1984, and in ‘‘Collage for Oval Office II’’ (left) from 1992.