In the wake of other successful Pop Art exhibitions earlier this year, Moco Museum is now setting the stage for another experience on the subject. With Roy Lichtenstein, Lasting Experience, the museum is bringing the creator of a world-famous visual language to the capital.
This article appeared first in Hello Amsterdam, edition Dec – Feb 2017-2018.
Roy Lichtenstein is one of the great Pop Artists of all times. It is hard to deny his lasting influence on pop culture. His works are unmistakenly his, especially his canvases based on comics. His art is still recognizable today in many creative industries: from painting to advertising, to design and fashion.
The other famous name, Andy Warhol, has been the subject of a large exhibition at the Beurs van Berlage last Spring. Now it is Lichtenstein’s turn to brighten up Amsterdam with his colorful imagery. Moco Museum has partnered with a team of curators that have earned their stripes when it comes to Pop Art. This exhibition presents a large edition of Lichtenstein’s famous works from international collections worldwide.
In 1960, both Andy Warhol (1923-1997) and Roy Lichtenstein (1928-1987) started to base their paintings on American tabloid cartoons and advertisements. Popular imagery appealed to both men, and they independently set on a creative journey to incorporate it in their art. Pop Art was born. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to the art of the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, who stated that their art reached into their subconscious, expressing their true selves. Pop Artists opposed this view by stressing the impersonal aspect of art.
A year later, it was Roy Lichtenstein who added the visual language of comics to his repertoire. He specifically used strips of romance and war and translated these to his canvases. At the time, this type of Pop Art was not well-received by art historians. The people that loved the works of Pollock, despised the likes of Lichtenstein. In fact, in 1964 Life, the leading US magazine, headlined Lichtenstein as “Is he the worst artist in America?” He was named a copycat, one that lacked originality.
In reality, this was not a fair judgment to make. Lichtenstein did copy to a certain extent, but in a much more subtle manner than it seemed. He used a complicated technique to create his works. Furthermore, he reinterpreted the content of the cartoons he chose, turning them into ironic interpretations rather than a literal translation to the canvas.
Lichtenstein himself put his choice of visual language into words:
“When we consider what is called Pop Art – although I don’t think it is a very good idea to group everybody together and think we are all doing the same thing – we assume these artists are trying to get outside the work. Personally, I feel that in my own work I wanted to look programmed or impersonal but I don’t really believe I am being impersonal when I do it… But the impersonal look is what I wanted to have.”
Examples of this period in the artist’s life are on display in Roy Lichtenstein – lasting influence.
But there is more to Lichtenstein than his comics. Later in his career, Lichtenstein went on further to investigate the personality of the artist in relation to its presence in his art. He started to work on the Brushstrokes-series, paintings that reproduced one or more brushstrokes as one isolated object. According to Lichtenstein, brushstrokes played an important part in the history of art. The brushstrokes that had been investigated by Lichtenstein in these years became a subject again in the 1980s. This time, he allowed himself a new sense of freedom. The brushstrokes were now more disorganized, with which Lichtenstein commented on masterpieces of the past like The Sower by Vincent Van Gogh.
Art of the past
Lichtenstein frequently looked back on the art of the past and reinterpreted works with his unique style. He explored many genres and artists. By doing so, he has made his own versions of landscape painting and still-lifes. These are also presented at Moco Museum. The exhibition includes a 3D room-installation, based on Lichtenstein’s painting “Bedroom at Arles”. He made this artwork in 1992 after a postcard of Van Gogh’s famous The Artist’s Room at Arles (1888-89).
“I’ve cleaned his room up a little bit for him; and he’ll be very happy when he gets home from the hospital to see that I’ve straightened his shirts and bought some new furniture. Mine is a rather large painting and his is rather small. His is much better, but mine is much bigger.”
The exhibition additionally presents a selection of large size editions from the series Imperfect Paintings. In this series, Lichtenstein took steps towards geometric abstraction. Lichtenstein, known for his ironic comments, talked about these works as a commentary on
“the dumbest abstraction you could think of, an abstract painting by someone without any idea or motivation. It’s about setting up rules and not obeying them”.
The exhibition also displays photographs by other artists, like Gianfranco Gorgoni, Timothy Greenfield Sanders, Dennis Hopper and Ugo Mulas, who have portrayed the artist.
Roy Lichtenstein – Lasting Influence presents an overview of Lichtenstein, consisting of many different subject matters. The exhibition gives the viewer an overview of the talented artist he was. It looks into his most known works but also shows the lesser known ones. Together, they prove that Lichtenstein’s art was more complex than the public seems to think. Maybe that is the reason why Lichtenstein has had such an influence on other artists and creative industries. One that is still felt today and is as powerful as some sixty years ago.
Around the corner of Moco Museum, more good news awaits fans of popular culture. Recently, a highly valued piece of art has returned to the neighboring Stedelijk Museum. It is the famous velum by American graffiti artist Keith Haring (1958-1990). Haring painted this large canvas, which filters daylight into the grand hallway of the museum, especially for his solo exhibition at the Stedelijk in 1986.
Haring painted it on the spot, making a spectacular performance of the act. Spreading the velum on the floor, he finished it in just one day. The canvas is filled with the well-known figures that Keith Haring became famous for. Now known as the Keith Haring velum, the painting was an immediate success. How, more than thirty years later and as good as new, the velum is back for everyone to enjoy.
Roy Lichtenstein, Lasting Influence. Until 31 May 2018. Moco Museum, Honthorststraat 20. mocomuseum.com
Keith Haring Velum. Stedelijk Museum, Museumplein 10. stedelijk.nl/en