Roy Lichtenstein @ Gagosian Paris
Earlier this year, I saw Roy Lichtenstein’s massive retrospective at the Tate Modern in London and the show is now on its way to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Coinciding with this presentation, Gagosian Paris has mounted an exhibition working closely with the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation titled Lichtenstein: Expressionism. I have to say while I was really impressed by the scale and scope of the survey exhibition, I did find his motifs a little repetitive by the end of the monumental show. Still, the importance of his work as a ground-breaking Pop artist who erased the divide between high and low culture cannot be overstated and the installation at the Centre Pompidou will be well worth a visit. In the late 1960s, Lichtenstein began to explore art historical movements including Futurism, Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism and the exhibition at the Gagosian focuses on the latter of these. Borrowing Expressionist motifs and translating them through his signature style of primary colours, and flat surfaces denying traditional perspective, Lichtenstein created strange, contradictory hybrids – works at once dry and full of emotion. More information from Gagosian’s press release below:
Among the styles and movements appropriated by Lichtenstein, his borrowing of Expressionist motifs—from Alexei Jawlensky’s close-up, pensive faces to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s jagged, feline figures—strikes the clearest irony. Including key paintings, sculpture, drawings, and woodcuts, this exhibition demonstrates the bold paradox that Lichtenstein posed by translating Expressionist subjects into the primary colors and pop flatness of his signature style. Sometimes he traded the Benday dots for striping, shading, and grisaille patterns in paintings that evoke Expressionist woodcuts, going as far as to create his own woodcuts incorporating Expressionist tropes. This exploration was realized in three dimensions with the impossibly tilted painted bronze caricature Expressionist Head (1980).
During a trip to Los Angeles in 1978, Lichtenstein was fascinated by lawyer Robert Rifkind’s collection of German Expressionist prints and illustrated books. He began to produce works that borrowed stylistic elements found in Expressionist paintings. The White Tree (1980) evokes lyric Der Blaue Reiter landscapes, while Dr. Waldmann (1980) recalls Otto Dix’s Dr. Mayer-Hermann (1926). Small colored-pencil drawings were used as templates for woodcuts, a medium favored by Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein, as well as Dix and Kirchner. Head (1980), a woodcut printed in both black and seven-color states, was made from a birch woodblock that Lichtenstein cut across the grain to emulate the smooth surface and even coloration of his paintings. Plucking stylistic strings while leaving the raw emotional tone of the movement behind, Lichtenstein’s use of Expressionism and other pivotal moments in art history called all remaining boundaries into question.
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