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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    The Hague, Netherlands, Art in Embassies Program “An Exhibition of American Art” Ambassador’s Residence, October 2002

  • Catalogue Essay

    In America the biggest is the best. ROY LICHTENSTEIN

    (Roy Lichtenstein, BBC Interview by David Sylvester, New York, January 1966)

    Perhaps no artist of the Twentieth Century has employed such an instantly recognizable visual language as Roy Lichtenstein. His signature palette of bold primary colors set against neutral blocks of black, white and gray creates stunningly dynamic canvases from which his signature dots and bold lines emerge. He is as well known for this very technique as he is for the subjects he paints— interior scenes, portraits of consumer products, filmic scenes transformed from the pages of comic books, and, as in the case of the present lot, emblems of American culture. His approach to painting is both unique in its style and symbolic of the times in its use of appropriation. Lichtenstein’s imagery thrusts forth the objects in a bold and striking super-reality; culling inspiration from the everyday imagery of Americana, his work has sustained it’s prominence as one of the most radical and unique visions of the Post-War period.

    Like many artists of the late Twentieth Century, Lichtenstein used his compositions as a way to address the rampant consumerism and commercialization of the time. By choosing an omnipresent image—the American flag—and reimagining it with a new color scheme, bold lines and sharp contrast, he imbues his work with a deep pathos of contemporary American culture. He accentuates the banality of a recognizable symbol, and fully explores the artifice of perspective and the limits of flatness. Instead of white stars against a blue background, magnified red dots take their place, and we find thick and bold diagonal black lines as a substitute for the vertical alternating red and white stripes. Forms in Space, 1985 hints at a comic-book inspired narrative of the symbol of Americana.

    Lichtenstein’s interpretation of the American flag, a symbol which he had rendered previously in its true colors, is not just mechanized through enlarged dots and slanted lines, but evokes something of the actual mechanics of perception. Lichtenstein investigates the ways in which the eyes perceive color, distance, shape and form, by abstracting an image that is burned in our memories in one particular and unerring way. Lichtenstein’s configuration of lines, dots, and colors forces us to read the American symbol as a new image, challenging our reflexes and intuition. Replacing the stars with simple circles, Lichtenstein comments on consumerism’s contribution to American culture: the stars are now dulled into mundane representations of their former glory. In addition, the angled relationship of Lichtenstein’s stripes to their referent signals a nation in straits with tenets of its original values.

    The present lot also reflects the political and social atmosphere in the decade of its creation. Forms in Space, 1985 replaces red and white stripes with black and white, negating the original vitality of the American flag with something sanitized, conjuring visions of America steeped in the fascist conclusion of its Red paranoia. The individuality of each of the stars has been blunted into submission, each no longer a shape of unique expression, but a dot among others of unremarkable equality.

    The present lot, Forms in Space, 1985, though highly saturated in its connotations of a dystopian America, is the quintessential embodiment of Lichtenstein’s brilliant refashionings of icons. In and of itself, it is a symbol of two freedoms: artistic and individualistic.

  • Artist Biography

    Roy Lichtenstein

    One of the most influential and innovative American artists of the post-war period, Roy Lichtenstein ushered in the prominence of Pop Art through his high-impact representations of consumer imagery, common entertainment, and the accoutrements of contemporary life rendered in the Ben-Day dots of contemporary comic strips. Central to Lichtenstein’s practice was parody, which enabled the artist to engage with often-disparaged commercial source imagery from an ironic distance as he considered the nature of the banal and probed the boundaries of what fine art could be.

     

    While Lichtenstein’s early Pop work cemented his status as one of the main figures of one of the most iconic and original movements of postmodernism, he continued to develop his practice over the course of the following decades until his death in 1997. Retaining his characteristic comic style and ironic distance, Lichtenstein engaged new and disparate influences from Abstract Expressionism to Chinese landscape painting to evolve the subject of his own work and consider the contradictions of representation, style, and substance. Lichtenstein is a central figure in the 20th century art historical canon and accordingly his work is represented in the collections of major museums worldwide, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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Ο16

Forms in Space

1985
Magna on canvas
24 x 32 in. (61 x 81.3 cm)
Signed and dated “R. Lichtenstein ‘85” on the reverse.

Estimate
$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $1,538,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York