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Roy Lichtenstein and American Pop Art

ROY LICHTENSTEIN AND AMERICAN POP ART

Guess how the video presentation of the beautiful exhibition ‘Roy Lichtenstein and American Pop Art’ begins?

Of course with an auction house where a Lichtenstein is auctioned at astronomical prices….

The unfailing association of a piece of art, or of an author, with an economic value is a constant in temporary art.

But why all this trouble?

Perhaps in this case our Roman ancestors can be of help. They used to say: “Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta (An unsolicited excuse is an evident self-accusation).

Indeed, it seems that without being associated with an economic value, contemporary art is always struggling to find its own inherent and absolute value.

Absolute value that could be beauty, usefulness or the cultural and human growth of the public to whom it is addressed.

As you know Roy Lichtenstein owes his fortune to his idea of transposing onto canvas the comic strips that were popular back in the 1950s and 1960s in the Unites States.

His popularity, as is true of  Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, George Segal, Tom Wesselmann, has been striking and shows no sign of dwindling.

He was one of the founding fathers of American Pop Art, and he became famous by creating giant prints of individual vignettes invented and designed by other people, i.e. the authors of the comic books.

Like a Canaletto in the twentieth century, Lichtenstein projected drawings of enlarged comics onto a canvas and then he painted or rather traced the lines, and then creating the oil painting. Now a rather obvious question is the following: what mechanism causes a comic book whose price is of the order of a few cents, to become a work of art, valued at many millions of dollars? Indeed there does not seem to be a true rational explanation. Lichtenstein himself, when interviewed in this regard, referred more to the explanations given by the critics, than his own thought, as if he himself were surprised by such success and found it difficult to provide a justification.
On the other hand also the analyses and explanations given by the critics in the same video, appear to be quite vague and intricate.

This, as Federico Zeri teaches us, is always an alarm bell. Often, a speech full of abstruse words, or a heavy catalogue of presentation, conceal the lack of absolute value. Absolute value which, as we know, never needs many words. Indeed, Marcel Duchamp and his ‘ready made’ from the 1950s have paved the way for any kind of experimentation.

From that time on the work of art is the work ‘elaborated’ and not necessarily created by the artist. From here it was only a short step to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can, or to Lichtenstein’s comics.

 

 

The video that you can see at the beginning of the exhibition shows other enlightening things. For example, the interview with the bewildered author of the comics reproduced by Lichtenstein, overwhelmed by sudden notoriety. But the thing that struck me most, and that I was not aware of, was the following. Given the success achieved by Roy Lichtenstein, other authors of comic books thought: “Well, why don’t we too do what you do? Especially since we are the true creators of the comics!“.  And so an exhibition was set up where the original works of the various hopeful cartoonists were exhibited.

The result, if I remember the word well, was “disappointing.”

Duchamp’s theorem leaves no way out. The public of contemporary art does not care about the aura conveyed by a work of art that Walter Benjamin talked about, nor about the concept of “original.”

After expressing these thoughts, all that remains to be said is that the exhibition is really enjoyable. The works on display are major ones and are fully representative of the American avant-garde of the ‘50s and ‘60s called Pop Art. Whatever the critical-artistic-cultural judgment of these works, one can not deny their aesthetic and visual power. The various works on show, such as “Crying Girl“, “Hot Dog” or “Smoker“, are a real punch in the stomach.

Indeed, Lichtenstein’ works, and Pop Art in general, strike the viewer in every possible sense as he/she stands before the work on display, but then, as you walk out of the museum, you realize one thing. What is missing is what is probably the most important thing that a real artist should do, namely create an emotion.

 

Not to be missed.