Wednesday, July 6, 2011

And a Lichtenstein, too

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 10:40 AM


Cruising the Crystal Bridges website, I noticed another publicity image that depicts in the background, what must be a CBMAA acquisition: Roy Lichtenstein's "Still Life with Stretcher, Mirror, Bowl of Fruit."

The painting was sold at auction at Christie's London in June 2007 for $8 million.

From Christie's Lot Notes:

Painted in 1972, Still Life with Stretcher, Mirror, Bowl of Fruit shows Roy Lichtenstein turning his idiosyncratic style back upon himself and upon his own home and life. In this still life, the artist appears to be inspecting his own home, perhaps inviting the viewer to indulge in what, one assumes, is supposed to be a privileged glimpse of life behind the easel. Gone is the POW! WHAM! BRATATATA!, replaced by something that appears far more intimate...

And yet, as is always the case with Lichtenstein, nothing is as simple as it initially seems. For is this really the artist's home? Is this a composite still life made to appear like the still life paintings of other artists? Is the intense foreshortening of the table meant to evoke the French master-colourist Henri Matisse? Certainly, several of Lichtenstein's other paintings from this period plundered Matisse's works and the objects within them in a highly piratical manner, resulting in composite Lichtenstein-does-Matisse pictures that referred to no single specific work. As the artist himself pointed out, 'All my art is in some way about other art, even if the other art is cartoons' (Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne 2000, frontispiece).

This strange balancing act, or rather the tension that Lichtenstein extracted from crashing together the worlds of so-called 'high' and 'low' art, was a staple feature in his work. Lichtenstein had became famous because of his paintings of comic strips, which took traditionally 'low art' sources and rendered them meticulously in oils on canvas, thereby granting them a mini-apotheosis, granting them access to the hallowed halls of high culture. The process had in fact begun even earlier, when he had made deliberately wry false Abstract Expressionist images, using the visual language of Action Painting in order to render subjects such as Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse— subjects that contrasted with and therefore punctured the pomp and machismo of the very movement whose appearance these pictures mimicked and mocked. By the 1970s, Lichtenstein's style of painting had become iconic enough that he could approach the same formula from a different angle. Now, he took the everyday and he took so-called 'high art' and he rendered them through the clinical, faux-print style that he had developed. In Still Life with Stretcher, Mirror, Bowl of Fruit, the Lichtenstein torch has been pointed at what appears to be an inobtrusive corner of the artist's domestic existence. This humble corner features a mirror, the back of a painting, a curtain, a table, fruit, cup and saucer. These, surely, are the modest accoutrements of Lichtenstein's own life? The artist has effectively invited us into his home.

Lichtenstein's imagery, which stylistically owes so much to advertising and publishing, thrusts the various objects into a bold and zingy superreality. This is not just a mirror, it is the mirror! This is not just a bowl of fruit, it is the quintessential bowl of fruit! These objects have been reduced to a shorthand that allows the viewer's mind to fill the gaps. ...

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