Licht­en­stein’s ‘ef­fort­less’ work isn’t

> Think­ing, artis­tic pro­cesses, in­flu­ence on dis­play at Dixon

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art - By Bill El­lis

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.

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