Lichtenstein: a retrospective


In some ways the arrival of Pop Art was a harbinger for the end of late modernism and the beginning of post modernism. Lichtenstein is a good example of this in the way he deploys two of post modernisms key tropes: the mixture of high and low culture, and a tendency towards nostalgia.

The mixing of high and low culture - and the resulting bathos - is the most famous aspect of Lichtenstein's work. His appropriation of comic book imagery created his best known and most iconic images. The Tate's Lichtenstein retrospective brings many of these paintings together, and while the exhibition is very good overall, the similarities in subject, technique and colour palette across the show means that the pictures have trouble standing out individually. He has one thing that he does, but he does it very well.

We can see Lichtenstein's tendency towards nostalgia at two points. First, in his treatment of architecture, particularly the art deco movement prominent in the New York of his youth. Lichtenstein actually referred to art deco as "Cubism for the masses", the inverse of his approach to comic imagery. The second point is his treatment of other artists. His takes on Picasso, Mondrian, and others are (with the possible exception of his version Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware) quite respectful, suggesting pastiche rather than parody.

At some point though, he seems to move beyond the nostalgic mode, particularly in his later experiments with Chinese art. Here his encounters with the minimalist forms of Eastern art result in some genuinely elegant hybrids rather than tongue-in-cheek appropriations. His sculptural take on Scholar's rocks is a case in point.

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is at the Tate Modern until the 27th of May, 2013

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