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Today Roy Lichtenstein is regarded as one of the stars of the pop art movement as well as a great master of American painting. And yet, having been at the avant-garde of pop art for several years, Lichtenstein went much further.
As soon as he began to reference artists and styles from art history in his works, he was very quickly perceived as a postmodern artist. Then, in the last years of his life, returning to the classic genres of the nude and the landscape, he became almost a traditional painter. So that Roy Lichtenstein is, today, a “classic” artist. Yet the power of his art is also an amused distance, critical without becoming cynical, that he applied to both himself and to art, from early on to the end of his life, the importance of which must be recognised. In one of his last interviews, Lichtenstein did not deny the interviewer's first question: “Are you sure that you have never created a work completely devoid of all trace of malice, humour or irony?”
“What can you paint that's not completely ridiculous?” he exclaimed as early as 1972, before bursting out laughing, in the middle of a serious interview about the series of still life paintings he was in the midst of producing. Still lifes inspired by the works of great modern masters. Matisse, Picasso, Léger, Le Corbusier, etc. are referenced or evoked in a title which mentions, if not their name, then the appropriate movement: Cubism for some, Purism for others. In 1972, at the age of 49, Lichtenstein had already been identified as one of the leading lights of the pop art movement for ten years, even though he was unveiling a series of paintings whose references to art history would make him one of the first “postmodern” artists.
The Centre Pompidou today presents a retrospective of his work, featuring a selection of 124 paintings, sculptures and prints that shed an original light on his career. The exhibition reveals the often surprising depth of an artist who was, from the beginning, more than just a pop painter. He was an experimenter of materials, an inventor of icons and an educated connoisseur of modern painting. As the fourth stop of this exhibition event organised by the Centre Pompidou, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Tate in London, the Parisian retrospective shows the incredible technical inventiveness of Roy Lichtenstein through a body of original sculptures, prints, enamels and ceramics. These experimentations, a little known aspect of his work, demonstrate the research he undertook throughout his career. This exhibition has enjoyed exceptional support from the Estate of Roy Lichtenstein in New York.
© Centre Pompidou.