Lichtenstein popped out
New exhibit looks at full span of iconic modern artist's career
05/30/2012 10:00 PM
You can find Claude Monet’s famous “Haystacks” paintings in the impressionist wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The timeless series seems to show up in whatever art museum I visit, no matter what city I’m in. They’re instantly recognizable as classic Monets.
But the iconic haystacks get a pop twist in the new Roy Lichtenstein exhibit, where they hang beside Lichtenstein’s takes on Mondrain and Picasso.
If there’s anything to be learned from Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, it’s that Lichtenstein never set out to copy or disrespect the original artist, only interpret their work in his own way.
Lichtenstein was a major part of the pop art movement of the 20th century, known best for his large recreations of scenes from comics that focused on particularly dramatic frames. He copied the halftone dot method from comics that makes his work immediately recognizable among the work of other pop artists of his time.
Even aside from the obvious pieces like “Haystacks,” it’s a trend seen through all of Lichtenstein’s life work, including some of his most famous pieces from the 60s that borrowed their dramatic scenes and halftone dot style from war and romance comics. The most impressive part of the earlier pieces is the sheer scale of the canvas, which Lichtenstein covered in hand-painted dots before transitioning in 1962 to machine-made perforated screens to do the work.
The exhibit is large, and needs to be to truly cover the span of Lichtenstein’s work. Different sections of the exhibit include the artist’s sketchbooks, a must-see, as well as his lesser-known landscape and brushstroke series. To my surprise, the exhibit also featured a number of sculptures, not limited to just one period of Lichtenstein’s work.
Before visiting the new exhibit at the Art Institute I could recognize Lichtenstein’s work but I couldn’t tell you anything about it and I was never exactly excited about it. Now, I’m on a mission to drag all of my friends to see the collection of 160 works even if means bribing them all summer long with the promise of crisp air conditioning inside the museum.
If you do visit, even if just for a break from the summer heat, I recommend stopping to read all the information throughout the exhibit, even it if means spending a little extra time there. Organized by The Art Institute of Chicago and the Tate Modern in London, the exhibit does a great job of breaking up different sections of Lichtenstein’s work and explaining each of the his phases, something that’s rare in a lot of art exhibits lately. I didn’t use an audio guide on my visit and left feeling happy not to have spent money on one ($7, $5 for members).
Cameras are welcome in the Retrospective, a rarity for special exhibits. Just be careful where you point your lens. Although most of the 160 works are okay to photograph, some do have a “no photography” label and museum staff will not hesitate to call you out on your stolen shot. During my visit it seemed like I heard a visitor reprimanded for not paying attention to the rules about every 3 minutes. Visitors and staff were even brainstorming ways to make it more clear which pieces were allowed to be photographed. Just take a second to look for that “no photography” label before you shoot.