Friday 21 September 2012
The gallery is staging the most comprehensive Lichtenstein show ever, with 125 of his paintings and sculptures as well as rarely seen drawings from a career that spanned more than 50 years.
"Lichtenstein should be evaluated for more than the works he is already known for," said the show's co-curator Sheena Wagstaff, and while there will be many examples of his cartoon and comic-strip pop art, visitors might be surprised at his early abstract expressionist paintings – "almost Twombly-esque", said Wagstaff – or his later art nouveau-inspired sculptures or works such as his version of the Laocoön from 1988. "It is a tour de force, an enormous canvas which will dominate one of the galleries in London."
That will not be the only vast painting. Interior with Waterlilies, painted in 1991, is more than four metres wide and about three metres high.
The show is an Anglo-American collaboration between Tate Modern and the Art Institute of Chicago. It has already shown in Chicago and will open in Washington DC next month.
Wagstaff, formerly of Tate Modern and now in charge of modern and contemporary art at the Met in New York, said preparing the show had been tricky – "it was not an easy gathering experience, I have to say" – because many Lichtenstein owners love and live with the works in a really intimate way. Two paintings in the show normally hang in the owners' bedrooms.
Choosing what to put in the show was also difficult. She and her co-curator, James Rondeau, requisitioned an enormous warehouse space in Chicago where they put up huge boards with images of more than 2,000 Lichtenstein paintings and sculptures. They spent four days deciding what they wanted for the show, mostly unaware of where any of them were. Later "we spent a very hallowed and rather extraordinary time" in a Brooklyn warehouse looking at 3,000 Lichtenstein drawings. "We were the first people ever to see the complete drawing oeuvre."
It is the biggest Lichtenstein show since the Guggenheim staged a retrospective in 1993 when the artist was still alive. "This is the first opportunity there has been to evaluate the entire oeuvre," said Wagstaff. It is also the first Lichtenstein show at the Tate since an incredibly popular one in 1968 when people were queuing round the block to see it.
Lichtenstein is likely to be as big a draw again. His 1963 painting Whaam! (pictured, top, with other works) is one of Tate Modern's most popular and best known works but while he is now recognised as one of the most significant of all pop artists he has often had a tough time from critics and the art establishment.
He was pilloried and scorned more than perhaps any other artist in the 1960s, with Life magazine publishing an article in 1964 with the crushing headline "Is He the Worst Artist in the US?"
Thankfully not everyone agreed. The Guardian's Norbert Lynton, reviewing the 1968 show, was full of praise. He wrote: "These simple stories, scanned by millions, can be profoundly revealing of the hopes and fears of all of us, and the way he isolates and monumentalises them gives them the cool but memorable impact of ikons."
• Lichtenstein: A Retrospective will be at Tate Modern from 21 February to 27 May 2013
See also: http://fridaynightboys300.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/roy-litchensteins-studio.html
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