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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Lichtenstein: A Retrospective


Oh, Jeff...I Love You Too...But...


Courtesy of Tate


Tate Modern


21 February – 27 May 2013


Lichtenstein: a retrospective at Tate Modern takes the familiar and not so familiar and blends them in a dazzling display of size, colour and design. What is remarkable is the diversity in Lichtenstein’s work from comic strip triptychs and the Pop Art scene to the delicacy of his Chinese-inspired landscapes, particularly Landscape with Fog, 1996, with its wisp-like ethereal shades in grey and blue via bronze sculptures with art deco geometric shapes.

Mass production and consumerism, Capitalist America’s chief exports in 60’s, is Lichtenstein’s world. It’s brash, busy, neon-stripped and big. His canvasses and their exaggerated, clichéd images reflect an American psyche at times larger than itself. Themed over thirteen rooms, the exhibition shows his signature brushstrokes and ben-day dots, redefined in an endless reworking, recycling, taken from Matisse and Picasso, and latterly, himself. Room after room offers striking, visual statements, ironically played against the debate between perception and taste.

Lichtenstein’s break-through year was 1961, when in his thirties he produced Look Mickey, after Disney. It reappears as a picture in the background in Artist’s Studio 1, 1973. Position was ‘everything.’ He would often turn his canvasses upside down and work on them or reflect them through a mirror to omit excess or extraneous detail. His art, always controlled, was moving towards what he called the ‘grand gesture.’

The stunning black and white series show images isolated at the centre of the canvass: a glass of Alka Seltzer, a golf ball or Magnifying Glass, dating from the early 60’s. Yet the dynamic between motion and time is wonderful. The suspended animation gives an immediate vibrancy, and time has been kind. The exhibits look as fresh today as when first conceived over a half a century ago.

Compartmentalism is everywhere. Step on Can with Leg, 1961, is an action storyboard which foreshadows Wham! 1964. He references Picasso’s Women of Algiers, 1955, in his own Femme d’Algier, 1963 and The Dance by Matisse. Disembodied objects, more often than not female hands, sneak into the pictures, in a stylistic motif which plays out to the end in Landscape with Boat, 1996, completed just before his death in 1997. The boat, in relation to landscape, barely makes it on to the canvass.

War and Romance, Room 4, houses the most recognisable and familiar of his paintings: M-Maybe, 1965, Girl Drowning, 1963, Oh, Jeff I Love You, Too, But, 1964. They have been so often reproduced on posters and t-shirts that his art as commodity becomes an ironic counterpoint to itself. Was he aware of this? I think he was. This is the stuff of the moment, the slogan - the iconic image which explodes in the psychedelic world of the 60’s.

At the centre of the exhibition are his four monumental artist studio pictures: primary colours, Ben-Day dots and heavy black lines. They are puzzles, fragments after Picasso and Matisse. At the other end of the scale are his land and seascapes, dating between 1964 and 1965, in which horizontal lines depict the rudiments of sky and sea. It prefigures his fascination with the simplicity of Chinese Art but also his absorption of the Art Deco scene from which his bold bronze sculptures of 1967 are a revelation. These look wonderful in the large white-washed rooms, referencing New York interiors with mirror, glass or velvet rope adding a singular, exotic touch.


Landscape in Fog


Courtesy of Tate



Lichtenstein: a retrospective captures his diversity from the 60’s cartoons, the stunning black and white series, optical mirror pictures, late nudes, bronze sculpture to transcendent Chinese-inspired landscapes. It is joyous, spirited, a unity of lines, dots and brushstrokes in a retrospective long over-due.



Courtesy of Tate


Tate Modern
Bankside, London SE1 9TG
10 – 18.00 Sunday – Thursday
10 – 22.00 Friday - Saturday
£14, concessions available


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