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Pop art explosion: Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at Mons
As a towering figure of the Pop Art movement, American Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was famous for his comic-strip prints and caustic view of US consumer society.
In presenting the retrospective Visions multiples, Mons’ modern art museum BAM reveals the diversity and skill of the pioneering artist’s technique via some 100 works, including prints, sculptures and tapestries.
“He was the last 20th-century master of print,” says BAM director Xavier Roland of the New York native, whose influence extended beyond art and design to photography, advertising and fashion.
“We wanted to bring another perspective to show the man, the artist and the artisan… to understand the thinking behind his mechanical processes,” adds Roland.
Originally scheduled for the end of October - but postponed due to the Covid pandemic - the exhibition has been extended until 18 April. Roland calls it a burst of “positive emotion”, particularly welcome in this “morose time”.
Pop Art was revolutionary in navigating high- and lowbrow art, and Lichtenstein, despite being a trained artist, initially drew criticism for negotiating this unprecedented territory. He was joined of course by contemporary, occasional rival, and friend, Andy Warhol.
Arranged by theme rather than chronologically, Visions multiples is a captivating and illuminating exploration of Lichtenstein’s prolific and tireless experimentation of print techniques, which incorporated 19th century practices as well as modern-day.
Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dot signature style was first used in his painting Look Mickey, which, along with other 1960s works were inspired by comic-strip scenes and icons of popular culture. Among his most influential works, is the lithograph Crying Girl, 1963 (main image, above).
Parodies of these familiar images, stretched across genres as diverse as romance, war and science fiction. Drafted into the US army during WW2, wartime service influenced Lichtenstein in his depiction of violent combat scenes, such as Crak! (pictured, above).
His life-long experimentation evolved as he explored other subject matters – including the playful duplication of familiar Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces – deconstructing the famous images while employing his own familiar touches. In Still life with Picasso, 1973 (pictured, above) Lichtenstein uses Ben-Day dots and black borders along with his familiar bright colours.
The female form was omnipresent early in Lichtenstein’s career; idealised images of happy housewives and two-dimensional comic-strip figures. As feminism emerged in the early 1970s, they briefly disappeared before reappearing in an altered form in his studies of avant-garde 20th-century artists. In the 1990s his career came full circle as he returned to his comic-book heroines with prints spliced with alternative effects, for example, Reflections on Girl, 1990 (pictured, above).This was followed by a celebrated series of intimate nudes; the romanticism of the early female forms replaced by a harder-edged approach and a wider palette of colours, such as Two Nudes, 1994 (pictured, above).
Another important theme honed in the 1990s was interiors. Drawing on previous studies of objects and furniture, he created large-scale prints of modern uninhabited scenes, including The Oval Office, 1992 (pictured, above), commissioned during the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign. Lichtenstein combined objects such as the famous Resolute Desk with his own decorative touches, all with their own symbolic meaning.
The prolific artist explored alternative commercial materials, including ceramic, Plexiglass and Rowlux; the latter became one of his favourite mediums for its reflective and optical effects, evident in the screen print Moonscape (pictured, above).
Other thematics explore his preoccupation with brush strokes and geometric art, visible in the multi-dimensional artist’s sculptures. In his final series, Chinese Landscapes (1996), Edgar Degas’ monotypes and pastels serve as inspiration while Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dot technique undergoes a complex process of enlargement and exaggeration to create perspective and movement.
A final section of the exhibition is devoted to the Pop Art movement, displaying works from the museum’s own collections (pictured, above), including French artist Peter Saul.
Inviting visitors to learn more about Lichtenstein’s obsession with printing - from lithographs to screen prints and offset printing - an image laboratory displays printing presses and plays video clips of print studios with four artists explaining their work.
Curated by Lichtenstein specialist Gianni Mercurio, the exhibition is a continuation of BAM’s 10-year exploration of popular culture and reflections on society, following presentations of works by Keith Haring and Niki de Saint-Phalle, as well as Warhol. For a further dive into Pop Art, don’t miss the season’s other major cultural highlight, Warhol – The American Dream Factory at La Boverie in Liège.
Digital events and activities for all ages are planned for the duration of the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition (see the museum’s Facebook page). Visitors are recommended to buy tickets in advance, either online at www.visitmons.be or by telephone (065.35.55.80). Groups of 25 people are authorised to enter every 30 minutes.
BAM is located close the city’s Grand Place, which is home to Winter gardens, a festive scene with giant fir trees, illuminations and an Alsace-style wooden chalet serving refreshments (until 3 January).
Roy Lichtenstein: Visions multiples
5 December to 18 April
Images: Crying Girl, 1963 © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020; CRAK!, 1963, Collection Lex Harding © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020; The Oval Office,1992, Collection Lex Harding © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020; Reflections on Girl,1990,Collection Lex Harding © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020; Two Nudes,1994,Collection Lex Harding © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020; Moonscape,1965,Collection Lex Harding © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/SABAM 2020