Lichtenstein: A Retrospective – Tate Modern

21st February 2013
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Laura Burnside

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Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam! (1963), Tate. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012.

Tate Modern is holding the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the celebrated pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

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Lichtenstein, Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… (1964), Collection Simonyi © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

Although Lichtenstein is most known for his War and Romance series, with works such as Whaam! (1963) and Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… (1964), the exhibition also covers his earlier and later works. Sheena Wagstaff, curator and Chairman of the Modern and Contemporary Art Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, says that “even if people don’t know the name Roy Lichtenstein, they certainly know the images; they are instantly identifiable”.

Encompassing everything from paintings and drawings to sculptures and works on paper, the exhibition gives the viewer a fuller understanding of Lichtenstein’s legacy. It explores his early Brushstrokes and Early Pop works, his War and Romance series, his Landscapes/Seascapes, his Late Nudes and his Chinese Landscapes, amongst others.

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Lichtenstein, Blue Nude (1995), Private Collection, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

In the 1950s Lichtenstein struggled with an abstract expressionist style to find his own identity as a painter, before starting to experiment with cartoon imagery. Look Mickey (1961), considered to be his first pop painting, was his breakthrough work.

War and Romance later explores the melodramatic stories and clichéd gender roles found in American mass media, focusing on the critical moment as a summarization of the whole story, such as in Drowning Girl (1963).

His landscapes and seascapes greatly diverge from the hectic and sometimes violent scenes in his War and Romance series, by displaying horizontal lines that represent the basic elements of sky and sea. “Landscapes/Seascapes identifies another key issue for the show, which is the oscillation he had between abstraction and figuration” says Sheena Wagstaff.

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Lichtenstein, Landscape In Fog (1996), Private Collection, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

Later on Lichtenstein turned back to the outdated art deco style with brass sculptures such as Modern Sculpture (1967). In his final years he created a series of huge female nudes, including Blue Nude (1995), and, fascinated by the simplicity of Chinese art, took a new direction with a series of sublime Chinese Landscapes, such as Landscape in Fog (1996).

Throughout much of his career Lichtenstein converted already existing images in order to posit riddles about authorship and originality. Sheena Wagstaff explains that “When getting to the end of the exhibition you realize that everything you are looking at is identified as a Lichtenstein, it’s perfectly obvious, and then what you have to do is to unpick the riddle of how he managed to achieve that. And that’s what the show illustrates, it’s up to you to ask those questions to yourself.”

Address: Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG