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Wednesday
Aug292012

A Sunday afternoon with Roy Lichtenstein and Karolyn

 

Last Sunday, Karolyn and I popped down to check out the special Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute.  It’s been getting written up all over the country.  

I think it would please Lichtenstein to know that was this was the only art exhibit I’ve ever seen where the children dragged in weren’t screaming to go home.  In fact, the kids' imaginations seemed captured by the show.  Making up stories and asking questions about the pictures, the kids seemed to "get" instinctually how he played with painting and its languagecodes, rules.

I confess that all I knew of his work were the iconic comic book panels, the ones about "loud sounds, energy, action, release," as the print on the wall commented.  POP! WHAMMO!!  I kept thinking of that Pop Art landmark, the Batman TV show of the 1960s.   

   

The cry for the show, though, had been that it would explode your preconceptions of what Lichtenstein did. 

We ducked in through the Modern Wing to get out of the rain.  I’m glad we did, because we stumbled across a permanent installation of the only film Lichtenstein ever made.  I didn't take any photos at the dark end of the hall, so I'll try to describe the film: a triptych of screens showed images that gently bobbed and rolled upon them, making us feel like we were on the deck of a ship.  Half of each screen was a window on nature (rippling water, fish swimming in a tank, a seabird pasted to the sky), the other half filled with striking diagonals or his trademark dots.  We sat and watched for awhile.  Karolyn remarked that she didn't think much of the plot. 

Trying to find our sea legs, we emerged blinking from the darkened space and headed for the special exhibit.  The film made a good intro; it created a harmony with concerns we'd see in some of the paintings: the flux of waves against geometric, man-made shapes, dots and diagonals.     

  

  

The most startling and hypnotic moiré "paintings" we saw looked like they were shaped out of shiny, bulbous plastic.  They seemed to swirl and undulate before your eyes.  

  

Here's Lichtenstein's comic take on the famous Laocoon sculpture.  I saw the sculpture last year in the Vatican Museums in Rome.  It tells a little story from Homer: Laocoon thought the idea of the Trojan horse was a crap idea and dug in his heels firmly against the whole project.  But since this was the plan which would enable the escape of Aeneas--crucial to the founding of Rome--the Gods couldn't allow Laocoon's "nolle prosequi" to muck up the plot.  So they sent two serpents to strangle him and his unfortunate sons. 

   

Postmodern art is always about the history of art on some level, but it was starting to look like Lichtenstein's project was nothing less than to reimagine that history completely, remake it in his own image. 

   

This one looked to me like his take on something Gaugin might do.

Something tells me my insight about this sculpture wasn’t too original: I proclaimed, “It’s very Art Deco.”  A moment or two later, a couple women stopped behind me to have a look.  “Very Art Deco, isn’t it?” one said to the other.  A had a little look at the wall description.  It said: here we have Lichtenstein's take on Art Deco. 

I like the velvet movie theater rope.

The drawings and sketches on this wall were actually I think my favorites.

 

Here's his take on Japanese landscape painting.

 

  On the spur of the moment Karolyn made up narratives for the women in "the naked pictures" room.  Her stories gave me in-depth character studies in just a few strokes, complete with psycho-sexual profiles of each woman.  Her stories pulled together all the pictures in the room.  I proclaimed that the Art Institute should take her on as a docent so she could pass these stories along. 

 

 

The Lichtenstein retrospective was an invigorating afternoon of boldness and ideas, an overview of a working life of prodigious creative work.  It was fun seeing it with Karolyn, who, woman of the world though she is, has never lost her ability to see with the wonder of a child.

  

 

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Reader Comments (1)

Wish I would have worn some make-up! Gonna have to start lifting weights too. Your last sentences nearly made me cry. I loved watching you lose yourself in all of the art. Love you!

August 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarolyn

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