Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein at the Skirball
By Genie Davis
Through March 12th
At the Skirball Cultural Center through March 12th, 2017, Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A. is a beautifully assembled homage to the artist known for his dots, lines, and bright primary colors.
His images are now iconic, replicated in memes and prints with added ironic sayings, but at the time they were composed the artist was creating an entirely new artistic expression. His use of every day objects, close-up images of faces, and comic-book style plunged pop images into the world of fine art, moving from abstract expressionism into a new, highly accessible, and figurative direction.
The exhibition includes prints taken from Lichtenstein’s “Bull Profile” and “Surrealist” series, as well as his well known “Sunrise” and “Shipboard Girl.” His condensing of comic book images, compacting them, refining them, and transforming them into a different art form altogether in his later works shifted into a focus on refining the work of other artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh.
Perhaps its their sunny color scheme, or the fact that Lichtenstein in fact spent winter months away from his New York City roots here in Los Angeles, but far beyond the exhibition’s title, the artist’s work embodies a Southern California aesthetic. Over the course of 25 years, the artist made biannual pilgrimages to Los Angeles, plunging himself into print making at the rewnowned Gemini G.E.L.
Here, the Skirball’s exhibition displays over 70 of the artist’s works, from those rarely exhibited to pieces which have been absorbed into the passages of pop culture, includes some 20 pieces from Lichenstein’s Los Angeles-based work.
Also on exhibit are works from the artist’s early career in New York, such as the artist’s skewed black and white currency in “Ten Dollar Bill” from 1956, which decisively contrasts with later work. Viewers will see the vibrant yellow rays of the sun in “Sunrise,” which resembles a Japanese wood block print; his 1973 work “Bull III,” part of a series that riffs on the work of Picasso, and “Wallpaper with Blue Floor Interior,” created in 1992, which gives us a view inside a living room reflected in a mirror – a reflection, perhaps on our own lives as reflected back by the artist.
The Skirball’s show is constructed to highlight his work here in LA, in a city that embodies an open accessibility in a way that Lichtenstein’s Manhattan home does not. We are not a dense city, we are a loose, long-limbed one, and it is in the spaces between art, life, and culture that Lichtenstein was able to push his own boundaries.
The artist’s well known portrait “Bobby Kennedy” graced the cover of Time Magazine during Kennedy’s run for president; his “Gun in America” was another Time cover, appearing after Kennedy was assassinated at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. Both Kennedy’s youth and vigor, and his untimely death, seen a part of Los Angeles culture.
Both pieces, having appeared on the magazine cover, spread his unique graphic technique to a wide audience, disseminating his style and his subjects to viewers who might not have otherwise seen his work. This egalitarianism also seems quintessentially Los Angeles.
A highlight of the Skirball exhibition is an installation space. It’s a recreation of the artist’s “Bedroom at Arles,” a 1992 painting inspired by a series created by Vincent Van Gogh. Viewers literally step inside Lichtenstein’s art, encouraging an assimilation of the work itself and its style. One is not simply viewing the dots, the lines, the images, one is immersed in them, seeing the patterns and the components of the work, and vividly absorbing the images the work contains. Sit on the red-covered twin bed, perch on the yellow chair. When one views a painting whose images are compelling, the sensation is of being pulled into that work, entering a different dimension. With this recreation of “Bedroom at Arles,” the Skirball allows viewers to literally enter that dimension, and leave again having absorbed and assimilated a completely different view of the world.
It is perhaps a different view of the world that Lichtenstein himself experienced each time he came to Los Angeles, one which enriched his work and his art’s viewers in turn.
The Skirball is located at 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles. The museum is closed on Mondays.