REVIEW: ‘Pop’ into the world of Roy Lichtenstein at Skirball Cultural Center

Roy Lichtenstein, Reverie, from the portfolio 11 Pop Artists, Volume II, 1965. Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

LOS ANGELES — The dynamic and vibrant work of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein was largely inspired by comic book art, the type in which characters speak through air bubbles and sounds are represented by bright flashes of onomatopoeia. The surfaces that Lichtenstein painted and printed, using his characteristic bold lines and dots, are inviting to the viewer and ask for deeper thought on subliminal messages and double meanings.

They hold the qualities of being both overt advertising and communicative of something hidden beneath the surface.

He was a stalwart of the Pop Art movement, and there’s probably no better way to appreciate his contributions than taking in the exhibition Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A., now on view at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The impact of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre is displayed in two large rooms, each focusing on different outputs from the artist’s productive life. Attendees will learn of Lichtenstein’s New York upbringing and German Jewish background, plus his initial forays into the world of Abstract Expressionism. After only a few steps into the exhibition, the focus shifts to the comic-influenced art.

Skirball smartly places Lichtenstein’s prints next to the specific comic books he was trying to emulate. However, it should be noted that the artist was not interested in mere replication; his was a fascination with the underlying themes of art meant for the masses. His choices on which panels to use and expand upon speaks to his ultimate modus operandi, and his resulting images approximate the truest definition of Pop Art: art for popular consumption.

His Ten Dollar Bill has its origins in the actual currency, but the elements that make up the design are mixed up and exaggerated. “The United States” curves over the central figure, while “America” is squeezed in near the top right. The series of circles in the corner are of a different size and pronouncement.

Reverie is one of the finest comic portraits Lichtenstein ever completed. It joins several other examples that focus on female characters and their inner thoughts. Nude With Blue Hair, State I is another example from the exhibition.

Installation view of Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A.; 3D recreation of Lichtenstein’s Bedroom at Arles, (1992). Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

One of the most interesting inclusions in the show, which runs at the Skirball through March 13, is Lichtenstein’s response to gun violence in the United States. He infamously created a Time magazine cover that portrayed a hand wrapped around a gun, and the weapon was pointed at the reader. Both Bobby Kennedy and Gun in America allow the viewer to see a visual example of the artist’s response to violence in American society.

Pop for the People has many prints by the artist and not as many original drawings, but that fits the overall theme of the show. The printmaking was an area Lichtenstein focused on during his Los Angeles years. Gemini G.E.L., celebrating its 50th anniversary, collaborated with the artist on many works showcased in the Skirball show.

The exhibition covers most of the chapter headings in Lichtenstein’s professional life, and, in many ways, the Skirball saves the best for last.

Lichtenstein was known to pay homage to his artistic inspirations, including Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. The artist’s ode to Vincent van Gogh is 1992’s Bedroom at Arles. The original painting is a classic rendition of simple room with a set of doors, bed, chair, window and table. Skirball presents Lichtenstein’s vision with a full-scale model that visitors are able to enter and contemplate at a close distance. Selfies are a must because the world of Pop Art becomes an actual immersive experience. Sit on the chair, lie on the bed, take a look around and be enveloped in the world of an American master.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A. runs through March 13 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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