'Interior with African Mask' (1991), oil and Magna on canvas 114 x 146 in. Courtesy the Broad Museum

Roy Lichtenstein Review @ The Broad Museum

June 10, 2021

With the re-opening of the Broad Museum after the world historical COVID-19 pandemic, the vacuum of artistic sunlight and the bitter coldness was rekindled with the beautiful demonstration of new works of art exhibited from the collection’s archive. Most resonant with the unearthing of more of the Broad’s collection were Lichtenstein pieces which provided ample demonstration of the artist’s spiritual progression.

 

There may be doubt, given the circumstances of the second half of the 20th century, that many prominent artists simply struck a nerve with the mercantilist center of the Industrial World centering themselves in Manhattan, and that their artistry was nothing more than inflationary trade pieces without any semblance of Western fine art-historical continuation. This is to say, Mr. Lichtenstein’s earlier works, which play on the mass consumerist culture of graphic novels similarly like Warhol and his play of mass consumer goods and are his most prominent pieces, may have been just that: efforts at imitation as opposed to spiritual authenticity. And yet, most alleviating, the presentation of his later artworks show an exquisite trajectory of keeping his simple yet stark colored forms piercing the sublime. His pair of paintings, Imperfect Painting and Perfect Painting, (1986) from the mid-80’s, retain a touch of whimsy while remaining concentrated on a serious geometric meditation.

‘Imperfect Painting’ (1986), oil and Magna on two canvas panels
111 3/4 x 168 in. Courtesy of the Broad Museum

 

‘Perfect Painting’ (1986) oil and Magna on canvas
70 x 100 in. Courtesy of the Broad Museum

Geometry has doubtlessly been used in the fine arts due to its transcendental exactness. So it is coy of Mr. Lichtenstein to play with the concept of perfection with the context of triangular and quadrilateral shapes and an enigmatic abundance of texture. The colors, being muted in each composition, give confidence to the structural poise of the measured space, and that is the artist’s emphasis: that of boundaries. Of limits. Are limits a good thing? Mr. Lichtenstein affirms so, with the demonstration of the variety of flavors space can be orchestrated. And no doubt their masculine forms protrude to further give us the positive sensation of extension of space as a healthy contemplation. There is, in other words, an artist confident of his mastery of limits, on display.

‘River Valley’ (1985) oil and Magna on canvas
77 x 108 in. Courtesy of the Broad Museum

River Valley (1985) presents us a dexterous effort at abstraction. Whereas with the aforementioned works we have his quintessential rigor, This painting provides us with a more elastic effort at color with a liberal ease of the forms depicted. Nevertheless, my interpretation should not be construed to imply Mr. Lichtenstein as being sloppy. The meticulous detail which is necessary to polka dot is simply moved in a setting which would be personally unconventional and hence unique for the artist. Most wonderful to ingest is his brilliant use of brown – a stubborn color to incorporate so confidently, yet given the context it could not be helped but be requisite. And what a splendid distinction, albeit amicably, between a landscape from Mr. Lichtenstein and a landscape from the likes of a Mr. Bob Ross. The aims at relaxing tension are clearly apparent in each; however, we see what obsession brings to light for the world when it is so considerate of the use of a primary color such as yellow in conjunction with a terrestrial portraiture. And his abstraction further leaps boldly with his playfulness of other vivid colors, to even partially coat a tree almost ornamentally with a purple shade. Again, it is testimony to an artist who has arrived at an inner-confidence of his mastery of paint.

‘Interior with African Mask’ (1991), oil and Magna on canvas
114 x 146 in. Courtesy of the Broad Museum

 

Last but certainly not least in illustrating Mr. Lichtenstein’s evolution, Interior with African Mask, 1991 is a tour de force of contemporary fine art. Amidst its quotidian setting is an undeniable sense of tranquility. It is a self-reflection on the goal of every member of the human race: peace. How challenging it is to achieve even in one’s own home! How, were people as focused on achieving serenity in their own house before achieving it on the planet, there would be more world peace! To consider, then, that the home is in such an angelic stasis that there is no after thought about the danger of injuring the work of art within the work of art. The African Mask rests, as gently as a Pharaoh in his royal tomb, to be admired fearlessly. Fine China, too, is allowed the liberty to be released from cabinet penitentiary, to bring more good thoughts to those residing and occupying the presence of a home which finds itself centered. Mr. Lichtenstein’s prominent choice of his dominant color in the foreground further augments the soothing composition, helping us realize a Kingdom of Heaven, at the tail end of modern history, with a mortgage payment. Let us then wish for a world  to come where eternity is capable of being perceived with no debts to be repaid.

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