Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    The Tremaine Collection, New York
    Christie's, New York, November 12, 1991, lot 33
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art & Atkins Museum of Fine Arts; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Seattle Art Museum; Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Roy Lichtenstein, September 19, 1969 - August 30, 1970, no. 91, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey; Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno; A Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Roy Lichtenstein: Imágenes reconocibles: Escultura, pintura y gráfica / Roy Lichtenstein: Imagens Reconhecíveis, July 9, 1998 - August 15, 2000 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 81); then traveled as Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture & Drawings, June 5 - September 30, 1999, no. 16, p. 57 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 81)
    Venice, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, May 28 - November 24, 2013, no. 20, p. 278 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 64)

  • Literature

    Max Kozloff, "Roy Lichtenstein at the Guggenheim", Artforum, vol. 8, no. 3, November 1969, p. 41 (another example illustrated)
    Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1971, no. 117, p. 246 (another example illustrated, n.p.)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Composed from a hypnotic layering of glossy steel apertures, Roy Lichtenstein’s Small Wall Explosion, 1965 celebrates the artist’s transferal of his most significant stylistic addition to the canon of art history, the Ben-Day dot, to three-dimensional form. Here Lichtenstein captures the climactic moment of combustion, ubiquitous within the genre of graphic fiction, in the permanence of steel. This notion is enhanced by the fact that the individual sheets of perforated steel layered on top of one another can spin around on the axis of a steel rod. Forming part of the artist’s earliest forays into sculpture, the groundbreaking 1965 series of Explosions enshrine the Ben-Day dot at a crucial point within Lichtenstein’s rapidly diversifying practice. Examples of Small Wall Explosion have been housed in prestigious collections around the world, the specific example here originating from the renowned Tremaine Collection and acquired by Miles and Shirley Fiterman almost three decades ago; another example still today resides in the distinguished Sonnabend Collection.

    Max Kozloff wrote about Lichtenstein’s Explosions at his 1969 exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in which another example of this work was included: “They offer the same solutions as in his pictorial work; but to the degree that their immobility is much more explicit, they’re the most astonishing things he’s ever done...To make something solid out of the ethereal, something opaque out of the transparent: these moments when form and subject work most abrasively against each other are the dramatic points of his career” (Max Kozloff, "Roy Lichtenstein at the Guggenheim", Artforum, vol. 8, no. 3, November 1969, p. 43). Indeed, throughout his career Lichtenstein reveled in subjects that are difficult to capture, such as mirrored surfaces, brushstrokes, explosions and cartoon expressions. It is no wonder that an explosion appealed to Lichtenstein, itself an invisible phenomenon in motion.

    Of his subject matter, Lichtenstein noted, “I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong. Usually love, war, or something that was highly charged…I also wanted the subject matter to be opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques” (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, 1967, p. 36). In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein challenged the pervasive influence of Abstract Expressionism, eschewing the bravura brushwork of action painting for a painterly technique that erased the marks of its maker.

    Instead, Lichtenstein thematized the stilled action of his subjects: “He paints about process and not with it…The early cartoon paintings of romance and war are ‘action packed’ with water, wind, and explosions” (Paul Schimmel, Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition 1955-62, Los Angeles, 1993, p. 46). The dislocation of quotidian media was a key conceptual strategy that underpinned Pop Art as a radical movement. Lichtenstein’s paintings such as Blam, 1962, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven and Whaam!, 1963, Tate, London call upon comic book images that playfully sanitize violent explosions. Engaging with these subjects in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lichtenstein – himself an army veteran – questioned how such images are mediated through mass media, but with a decisive sense of objective distance. Small Wall Explosion is luscious and explosive, while also being experientially removed – an abstraction of an already mediated image. In Small Wall Explosion, the ascending strata of uniformly perforated steel are crowned with the monochromatic zigzag element outlined in black, abstracting pure white heat into symbolic pathos.

    Having increased the size and presence of the Ben-Day dots in his paintings during 1964, by 1965 sculpture provided Lichtenstein a new fertile ground to play with cultural expectations regarding representation. The artist succinctly noted, "I was interested in putting two-dimensional symbols on a three-dimensional object" (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, 1967, p. 16). Here he utilizes the perfected geometry of mechanically hole-punched steel, which he would later use as a screen to paint through in order to create perfectly rendered dots. Artfully playing with scale, he stacks telescopic tiers of the perforated metal plates, each cut with such laser precision that the punctures do not disrupt the boundaries of the overall shape. The effect is optically deceptive: negative spaces gain solidity as the Ben-Day dots that we are familiar with emerge as form rather than background, while the tactile layers of steel dissolve into two-dimensional planes of pattern. Rendered in a simplified palette of energetic primary colors, Lichtenstein enacts an explosive deconstruction of the printing process, recalling how the illusions of crudely printed media fall apart at a close distance. At the same time, hypnotic combinations of light and color fluctuate amidst the compressed layers of depth, and the vision appears to vibrate as we alter our proximity to it.

    Together these visual qualities help Lichtenstein brilliantly depict the ephemeral manifestation of an explosion in three dimensions, which is immediately understood through color, line and form. His ability to play with different modes of representation and abstraction, always in his signature style, is one of his defining legacies to art of the 20th century.

Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection


Small Wall Explosion

signed, numbered and dated "rf Lichtenstein '65 4/6" on the reverse
porcelain enamel on perforated steel
20 1/4 x 21 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (51.4 x 54.6 x 18.4 cm.)
Executed in 1965, this work is number 4 from an edition of 6.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $860,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue