Roy Lichtenstein transformed Pop Art with his creative cartoon-like depiction of everyday objects and characters using bright colors, dots and an interplay of lines. A new show that opened today, Oct. 7, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, “Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A.,” provides an overview of how the artist made fine art more accessible to the American public then before.
“Pop for the People” features over 70 Lichtenstein (1923-1997) works from four decades of his art. The exhibition also highlights the broad effect of the native New Yorker’s Pop Art, especially as it developed buoyed by a renaissance in printmaking in Los Angeles, and its cultural context. “’Pop for the People’ illustrates the social impact of his work,” noted Robert Kirschner, the Skirball’s Museum Director. He pointed out that it was universal in appeal, and democratic in spirit.
Lichtenstein started out painting abstract expressionist work, but found his voice when he started experimenting in the nascent Pop Art, which strived to transform conceptions of fine art. The exhibit features a representative sampling of Lichtenstein’s evolution and many of his more broadly seen pieces. The Skirball show includes a rarely exhibited early Pop Art piece: ”Ten Dollar Bill “(1956). There are also some of his famed comic book works, such as “Whaam!“ (1963), shown alongside actual comic books that served as inspiration. Additionally, there is his “Time” magazine cover portrait of Senator Robert F Kennedy from May 1968 and the one he did a month later, “Gun in America,” after the Senator was assassinated.
The Skirball exhibition’s curator, Bethany Montagano, pointed out that it took a while before Lichtenstein received widespread renown. “His work is wildly famous now, but when it debuted critics hated it,” she said, noting “Roy proved them wrong.” He reinvented and reinterpreted works of fine art, which “made the art more digestible and accessible. This helped level the playing field between everyday and elitism in the art world,” Montagano added.
One room in the exhibition look at Lichtenstein’s playful spins on works by many famous modern masters. The artist is quoted, “I’m taking the work of the past and turning it into my own style. Everybody does that.” The room includes his 1969 homage to Claude Monet’s haystacks, bold 1973 reproductions of a bull borrowing from and then abstractly simplifying Pablo Picasso’s series on “The Bull (Le Taureau),” and his 1977 take on Salvador Dali’s surrealist works.
The Skirball exhibit features a special, life-size pop art recreation of Lichtenstein’s reimagining of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles.” The artist’s version uses a similar room layout, but the furniture is more contemporary (and real). (People visiting the L.A. area over the holidays and early next year can compare the real one and the Lichtenstein pop treatment. Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” will be on loan to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena starting Dec. 9.)
Additionally, the exhibition shows how Lichtenstein’s creative influence persists today in a variety of arenas. It includes dishware, tote bags and clothing derived from his works.
“Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A.” will be at the Skirball through March 12, 2017. Lichtenstein’s accessible work should appeal to all, which was what the artist intended.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Skirball: Pop For the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A.
The Broad: Roy Lichtenstein
Photo of Skirball interpretation of “Bedroom at Arles” by Dyanne Weiss
Photo of “Purist Still Life” (1975) celebating jazz music, lent by The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, by Dyanne Weiss