Roy Lichtenstein - Contemporary Art Part II New York Friday, May 13, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist; Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Guild Hall, Roy Lichtenstein: Three Decades of Sculpture, August 15 - October 4, 1992 (another example exhibited); London, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture, June 6 – August 6, 2005 and New York, Gagosian Gallery, September 16 – October 22, 2005 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    H. Foster, S. Ratibor, and M. Francis, eds., Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture, London and New York, 2005, p. 85 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Master of Pop Roy Lichtenstein, famous above all for transforming art into new-media abstractions, created master distillations of modernist masters, his own very art, and icons culled from everyday popular culture. The present lot, titled and modeled after Constantin Brancusi’s bronze modernist gem Le Nouveau-nŽ (the Newborn), 1920 (part of the Permanent Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York), is Lichtenstein’s recall and response to Brancusi’s graceful, deceptively effortless sculpture of abstraction and form. The reprisal is in itself an establishment of Lichtenstein’s purest medium: the art of representation in preconceived displays but with new, ironic, twists.

    Paintings synonymous with comic strips, brushstrokes, dot-matrix Benday compositions, primary colors and bold black lines, Lichtenstein was very much the Pop artist du jour in post-war America, carving out a wholly independent, yet astutely reflexive, arc from contemporaries Warhol, Johns and Rosenquist. There is no doubt in any viewer’s mind when gazing upon his art that it is in fact, a Lichtenstein. And his sculptures go one step further in expressing his principle motif: that recurring interest in the relationship of three dimensional form and two-dimensional space. They are in fact, the purest extension of his paintings and were a constant gravitational pull for him during his lengthy career. His sculptures are a visual paradox of semi-relief, semi trompe l’oeil mode of two-dimensionality. He loved how their mechanical production combined formal aesthetics with mass market reproduction.

    New Born goes full circle to Lichtenstein’s early interest in the primitive (what is more primal than a newborn?), to his usage of art history as a pop icon,
    pure form and elegant personal language. The purity of this piece is crucial in placing it within Lichtenstein’s ouevre. Its very lack of color signifies the
    purity of the work, and any omission of color is the artist’s way of expressing the core of the modern art form it shadows. New Born doesn’t lack color, it
    simply doesn’t need color. The work registers innocence, pure form, and its simplicity incites emotion.

    “Lichtenstein’s sculptures have focused on a range of themes over several decades, including art-historical styles, Art Deco design, and his own invented forms. With characteristic irony, Lichtenstein has been addressing issues of three-dimensional space via his sculptural versions of his twodimensional images, translating motifs from one realm into the other, motifs as varied as mirror reflections, steam rising from a coffee cup, light streaming from a lamp, a whiplash brushstroke, and an Expressionist head. By maintaining the flatness, altering the scale, and applying process color and Benday dots, he deliberately undermines his representation of the object and our perception of it, and continues the tradition of such twentiethcentury artists as Picasso and Johns in exploring new paths in sculpture” (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1993, p. 335).

    Lichtenstein’s New Born, from 1988 is a reprise of one of modern art’s most iconic sculptures. Brancusi, the father of modern sculpture, diffused into his object a pristine, other-worldliness where space and volume are only punctuations to his form and elegance. The shape, at its abstracted core, is that of a newborn baby harkening to its womb-like state. Life-size and serene, it reflects the awe in not only humanity at this primal level, but also proves the founding principles of modernism: that rules of representation can now become pure abstractions.

    Lichtenstein takes it and revolves the door on modernism to abstract it further still. As with all of his artwork, the underlying tension is between representing volume and space, figures and signs, and reinforcing the role of the two-dimensional image as an object. With this reprise of the New Born, Lichtenstein reformats a three-dimensional subject onto twodimensional planes, as his sculpture has an orientation and flatness: “Most of Lichtenstein’s sculptures are based on his translation of two-dimensional
    pictorial images into three-dimensional forms that frequently look almost as flat as his paintings” (ibid, p. 315).

    The semiotic use of voids as volume was critical to Lichtenstein’s central motif: “His sculptures are linear and frontal in orientation and reflect Lichtenstein’s emphasis on pictorial illusionism and the flat plane. Lichtenstein sees sculpture as a two-dimensional construct: ‘The kind of organization which I think it is about has to do with the sense of positions existing at a related distance and direction from the artist. Sculpture might have an exterior form and then it has changes within that form which create contrast…Contrast may be in a cast shadow or in the illusion of a cast shadow, or contrast can be created in any conceivable way. Now, as you turn the sculpture, or move your position, you continually perceive it differently. It’s the relationship of contrast to contrast, rather than volume to volume, which makes it work. So, even though I realize it is three-dimensional, it is always a two-dimensional relationship to me — or as two-dimensional as a drawing is” (ibid, p. 326).

    Early in December 1983 Lichtenstein began work on a mural for Leo Castelli’s Greene Street gallery in SoHo. The mural was 18 feet high and 95 feet 8 ½ inches long, taking up the entire wall at the gallery. Lichtenstein included in this mural a verifiable inventory of career highlights (in no particular order): 1960s Pop Images, brushstroke motifs, interiors, still-lifes, and, of course, our New Born. The mural showcased what was, to be sure, the artist’s personal highlights, selected by himself to illustrate as montage his illustrious career as the master of Pop that he was. The New Born, not yet executed in his editioned bronze, was foreshadowed in this important installation.

    “Inspired by popular culture and the mass media, Lichtenstein and his colleagues featured a new urban society in their art, portraying our nation and its people in terms of their artifacts. But one of the primary characteristics that distinguishes Lichtenstein from his fellow Pop artists is his ability to depict a common object as an abstract form while maintaining its basic features as an object, allowing him to transcend its literalness and subvert its reality. His deadpan mechanical representation of familiar images helps to blur the traditional notions of what is ‘real’ and what is ‘abstract.’

    In his use of such artifice, and in our awareness of the fiction involved in his presentation of these images, his art subverts the foundation on which it was created and, paradoxically, derives its strength from this subversion. Comic strips and consumer-product advertising images offered Lichtenstein a way to test his own aesthetic ideas and to question the role of art in the late twentieth century, and he proceeded to incorporate all these queries into his work. Within this framework, he has been able to encompass the ideas of such Modern masters as Cézanne, Matisse, Mondrian, and Picasso and the most fundamental aspects of Futurism, German Expressionism,
    and Surrealism. In modeling his own work on the work of other artists, Lichtenstein has used the same method he first established with his cartoon/comic-strip paintings: identify the subject, isolate its features, and restate both in terms of his own style” (ibid, p. 355).

    As with Brancusi’s modernist icon, Lichtenstein’s New Born also identifies with the artist’s fundamental issue of representing a figure in abstract means. The illusion of referencing Brancusi, and the actual act of doing so, were one and the same. The mechanical reproduction of Lichtenstein’s patinated bronze appealed to him for the sake of mass production and clean lines. The contradiction inherent in the representation of a three-dimensional form within the limits of flattened plane, as his sculptures were oriented in a two-dimensional plane, was a natural implication for Lichtenstein to pursue and calculates why Brancusi was such a perfect fit for him to appropriate. Both New Borns are, to be sure, exquisite representations of their time and place within art history. Both artists are classic icons of their own.


New Born

Patinated bronze.
12 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 3 1/2 in. (31.1 x 41.3 x 8.9 cm.)
Inscribed "R.F. Lichtenstein '88" along the base. This work is from an edition of six.

$300,000 - 500,000 

Contemporary Art Part II

13 May 2011
New York