I always loved the work of Roy Lichtenstein and its defining influence on pop culture, magazines and posters, so an exhibition at the Moco Museum was high on my bucket list for the February Amsterdam trip. Paired with a show stopping Banksey show, the small museum located in a 1904 townhouse within the Museumplein complex, was extremely busy even on a frosty Monday morning. The Lichtenstein display combined rarely seen works from private collections, plus instantly recognisable classics including the ‘Crying Girl’, Drowning Girl (both 1963) and ‘Ohhh… Alright’ from the following year.
Born in New York in 1923, Lichtenstein’s career took a while to ignite and it was not until the early sixties that he became synonymous with a new art scene exploding in New York along with Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns among others. His adoption of Ben Day dots and speech bubbles were used to create sardonic parodies of homely messages so favoured by advertising at the time, particularly in relation to the portrayal of women as submissive pawns in the life of men.
Despite the popularity of his ‘comic strip’ style, Lichtenstein was heavily criticised for not crediting the originally artists in his work. Given the speed of his rise to prominence, this is understandable and I very much doubt if Lichtenstein himself could have foreseen the level to which the art world would embrace his images. Perhaps as a reaction to this criticism, he embarked on his ‘Brushstrokes’ period producing works based on classics’ from Cézanne, Van Gogh & Picasso; these too are now heralded as iconic statement pieces.
By the seventies, Lichtenstein was a somewhat reclusive figure, but emerged to revisit his trademark imprimatur throughout the heady days of the eighties. His accepted numerous commissions from both corporations and public bodies which further propelled his work to global proportions. Another of his famous works, ‘Masterpiece’, sold for $165million in early 2017 elevating his commercial level to the art world stratosphere; this is particularly extraordinary when you consider that many of his most popular creations were based on throwaway comic strips and press ads that were as disposable as the consumer society they depicted. Roy Lichtenstein passed in 1997.