A new show is open at the Skirball Cultural Center that explores Roy Lichtenstein‘s relationship with LA — how the artist traveled to our sunny coast each year when NY winter’s became too chilly, and was integral to LA’s emergence as an art powerhouse. Pop Art itself was a democratic movement, from its focus on mass media imagery to its emergence during a renaissance of industrial printing that meant more people could purchase fine art. As one of the pioneers of Pop Art – which glorified everyday objects and blurred the lines between high and low culture – Lichtenstein is known for a distinct style and this show revels in his playful, creative sensibility. The heart of the show is Lichtenstein’s 27 year-long relationship with the founders of the artists’ workshop Gemini G.E.L.
Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in LA includes over seventy works, many rarely seen before (including amazing paper plates), and playful photographs of the artist at work here in our city. The exhibit is colorful and energetic, covers topics from Lichtenstein’s relationship with Leo Castelli to jazz music to Robert Kennedy, and contains plenty of visual pop – including this bright yellow bench that was created for the exhibit.
Lichtenstein was a descendent of German Jews, born and raised in Manhattan, who attended Parsons School of Design, and served in the US Army (where he first developed a fondness for comic books). After the war, he was a professor at Ohio State and returned to NYC frequently to show his art. His contribution to history was his interest in mass media imagery and his cartoon-influenced style, which deliberately raised everyday objects to the status of art and blurred the lines between high and low culture. Critics initially derided his interest in “pop culture” items, but his perspective was this:
“The purpose of my art is to show you there might be value in certain things that might be considered valueless.” – Roy Lichtenstein
But, the change in subject matter was not all that we remember him for. He broke with the Abstract Expressionists with his palate and graphic style: primary colors, the Ben-Day dots, and what most can recognize as a comic book’s heavy black line. His work was both political and popular, which was a difficult pose to strike in the turbulent 1960s.
The exhibit is a stimulating delight: it is a treat to see so many images from Lichtenstein‘s primary palate in one exhibit – two full rooms with sunny yellows, blues and reds greet visitors, and it’s easy to become engaged with the exhibit.
The diversity of materials used by the artist is surprising — a luscious felt banner kicks off the show, a dress, a paper bag for carrying turkey and colorful plates follow, and a huge wall that appears to be painting turns out to be wallpaper.
But it’s the relationship of the artist to Gemini G.E.L. that is the heart of the show. In addition to Lichtenstein, Gemini collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, among many others, making Gemini a formative player in shaping the Los Angeles art scene and establishing it as a global center for graphic experimentation. Lichtenstein issued his first serial prints with Gemini in 1969. During their twenty- seven-year collaboration, Lichtenstein and Gemini produced 124 editions, offering a myriad of edition sizes at various prices. This availability and affordability represented a dramatic shift in the economy of fine art.
For more on Gemini G.E.L. be sure to visit a show currently on view at LACMA that celebrates the 50 year anniversary of the gallery, Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L., which is open through January 2, 2017. The show contains more Lichtenstein prints.
During the Gemini G.E. L. years, Lichtenstein explored the work of artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh and Dali. He played with iconic images explored by those who went before him, lending his pop sensibility and celebrating them with seeming joy. The exhibit has several walls devoted to this series of works, and you can see his thought process at work. Also, in this room are wonderful photographs that depict him at work, made by his assistant,Laurie Lambrecht.
Best of all, the design team at the museum has put together two wonderful, interactive exhibits that families can enjoy: the most alluring is a colorful room that brings to life a Lichtenstein print that pays homage to Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles. Visitors can sit on the bed and chair and photograph themselves inside the painting.
The second interactive feature is situated at the very entrance to the show – an Oval Office wall with cartoon caption bubbles that viewers can pose in front of (“VOTE!” and “FUTURE PRESIDENT”).
Especially for Families
FAMILY ART MAKING: In the month of November, visitors to the Family Art Studio will create and take home their own “peace prints,” and also add one to a communal “peace chain” installation. In December, they will create a portrait of their favorite animals using materials inspired by the colors and patterns of artist Roy Lichtenstein (Regular schedule: Saturdays and Sundays, except December 18, 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Special winter schedule: Tuesday–Sunday, December 20–January 8, except December 25 and January 1, 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.).
FAMILY SLEEPOVER: As part of its popular series of family sleepovers, the Skirball invites families to a Pop Art–themed overnight aboard Noah’s Ark. Participants enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A. and create Pop Art–inspired prints with artist Karla Aguiñiga. This multisensory art adventure will include music, storytelling, a delicious dinner, and loads of nighttime fun (Saturday, November 12, 6:00 p.m.–Sunday, November 13, 9:00 a.m.).
FAMILY WORKSHOP: At Skirball Playdate: Leave Nothing but Prints, families with children ages 31⁄2–5 will visit the exhibition Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A. to look for bold colors, polka dots, and everyday objects. After the tour, they will experiment with unusual printmaking techniques and create a Pop Art–inspired self-portrait (Sunday, November 20, 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.).