Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at the Tate Modern

-This exhibition is now closed-

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, the new exhibition at the Tate Modern, is a superbly-curated show, featuring over 100 works by Lichtenstein and exploring the artist’s legacy.

The most enduring quality of Lichtenstein’s work is its inherent accessibility. The familiar bright colours, clean lines, Ben-Day dots and comic-book sensibilities that characterise Lichtenstein’s art make it irresistibly inviting and fun; camouflage for the artist’s attempts to defamiliarise the viewer’s perception of popular media and art. In his brushstroke paintings, in which streaks of paint are frozen in characteristic comic-book style, Lichtenstein sends up the abstract-impressionist concept of the brushstroke as an emotionally spontaneous artistic expression. Step-On Can With Leg is Lichtenstein’s celebration of the innovation of the pedal bin, investing what could be a simple advertisement with the status of an artwork and wryly drawing attention to the modern obsession with home convenience. In his Picasso-inspired Femme d’Alger, Lichtenstein reduces Picasso’s style to its nuts-and-bolts, immediately-recognisable visual elements, highlighting the basic status of the masterpiece as just another consumer culture object. In his later 1990s works, such as Interior With Nude Leaving, the Ben-Day dots that Lichtenstein made famous in the 1960s expand beyond the borders of the objects in the painting, giving a collage effect that suggests Lichtenstein’s critical awareness of his own significant influence on popular art.

However wryly-observed, the instant friendliness of Lichtenstein’s work means it never comes across as aggressive or elitist. It is not an attack against popular culture but rather a tongue-in-cheek celebration of it, exalting the banal and placing it on a level footing with ‘serious’ high art.

The exhibition is open until 27 May.

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