Up now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein’s work since the artist’s death in 1997. The fun, pleasing show boasts an expansive collection of more than 100 artworks in various mediums and includes pieces from many periods of Lichtenstein’s career. Present, of course, are the artist’s iconic and thoroughly entertaining comic-inspired paintings including Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…(1964) and Drowning Girl (1963). Additionally, the retrospective features Lichtenstein’s early experimentations with Abstract Expressionism (Little Big Painting, 1965), his landscapes (Sunrise, 1965), and his riffs on old masters like Velázquez (Mirror #1, 1970) and Modern artists like Mondrian (Non-Objective I, 1964).
Though I was excited to view my favorite Lichtenstein works under one roof, the most eye-catching pieces in the show, for me, were those that I had actually never seen before—Lichtenstein’s sleek, striking works of sculpture. These comic-cum-portrait-bust creations (such as Black and White Head, 1966) are a standout and a welcomed surprise.
While enjoyable, the show did, unfortunately, leave me feeling unsatisfied on some level. I wanted a better understanding of Lichtenstein’s process, ideas, and the development of his work—I wanted to connect the dots, but was unable to.
A week later, I was surprised to find the resolution that I was looking for while visiting the SCOPE Miami art fair. There, the influence of Lichtenstein was inimitable, making me realize that perhaps the show in Washington lacked a completeness because in some respects, the artist’s work is not yet complete. It continues to evolve through the work of many contemporary artists who are reappropriating his style and imagery. In photographer Alex Guofeng Cao‘s I LOVE YOU TOO, LICHTENSTEIN vs LICHTENSTEIN (2011), for example, Cao overlays a black-and-white image of Lichtenstein’s painting over thousands of tiny portrait’s of the artist, paying homage not only to the original work, but it’s creator. Lichtenstein’s 1956 Grrrrrrrrrrr!! was reincarnated as a stark, fierce, political commentary in Gail Stoicheff’s painting Rottie (Pussy Riot 3), 2012, at the Tinca Art booth and his comic-book characters get a zombie makeover in paintings by street artist D*Face at the Corey Helford Gallery booth. Lichtenstein’s work provided a foundation for these artists, who are adapting his style in ways that respond to our current social and artistic climate, proving that now, 15 years after Lichtenstein’s death, his work is quite possibly more relevant than ever.
“Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” is on view through January 13, 2013 at the National Gallery of Art.