Roy Lichtenstein - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "However modern you are, you are going to look antique pretty quickly."
    —Roy Lichtenstein

    First shown at the artist’s solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1969, and later internationally exhibited in a traveling retrospective at the Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others, Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope belongs to the artist’s “most successful group of sculptures.”i Executed in 1968, the work displays Lichtenstein’s obsession with artifice, reference, and irony that defined his career. The Modern sculptures take the Art Deco glamour of the 1930s as their starting point, and, typical of Lichtenstein’s modus operandi to “set up a situation in which style is subject,”ii embody the glitz of that bygone era. Beyond this, Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope probes contemporary culture–provoking the question of what it means to be modern in an age of invention and technology, a topic that feels more pertinent today than ever. 


    The Grand Foyer Staircase at Radio City Music Hall.
    The Grand Foyer Staircase at Radio City Music Hall.

    Lichtenstein’s Modern Sculptures


    The Modern sculptures transform “architectural ornament” into fine art.iii In Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope, the ornate, shiny brass poles are reminiscent of 1930s and 40s New York where the artist grew up, while the velvet rope, hanging dramatically between the two brass stanchions, calls to mind the nostalgia of Hollywood’s golden age. His configuration of the elements, however, is wholly modern, in that the sculpture is stripped of any utility. The artist, in his own words, “humorously [makes] a relationship” between the past and his present–a present which was itself deeply fascinated by progression. By removing the object's purpose, whether it be containing a queue of people waiting in line for a ticketed event, or blocking off a restricted area, Lichtenstein proves its redundancy. In challenging the existence of such structures, he reinvents the objects as pawns in his 1960s fantasy, one in which everything is fair game.

    As much as Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope functions as a joke on an affected past, it also critiques the present–both Lichtenstein’s and our own. The sculpture “explicitly connects the modernist past with a modern present” and, in doing so, forces us to question our own definition of modernism.iv By ridiculing the modernity of the past, Lichtenstein calls his own technologically obsessed contemporary culture to trial. 


    Bringing a drawing to life


    Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope is not only interesting conceptually, but spatially too. From his sketchbook plans to the finished product, Lichtenstein appeared to be more focused on the frontal effect of the piece than its three-dimensional whole. The piece is made up of line and shape, instead of scale and mass as one might expect of a sculpture. It is “contingent upon Lichtenstein's sense of pictorial illusionism” and reads as “a single plane.”v It was while working on the Modern group of sculptures that Lichtenstein developed tension between two-dimensional images and three-dimensional forms, which would characterize his later work. The present work therefore represents a turning point in Lichtenstein’s practice—a moment when the artist truly began to offer us new ways to look at the world in which we live. 

    i Lawrence Alloway, Lichtenstein, New York, 1984, p. 58.
    ii Lawrence Alloway, American Pop Art, New York, 1974, p 75.
    iii Diane Waldman, Lichtenstein, 1993, New York, p. 321.
    iv Robert Slifkin, Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art, Oakland, 2013, p. 87.
    v Diane Waldman, Transformations in Sculpture: Four Decades of American and European Art, 1985, New York, p. 31.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Mr. and Mrs. Milton Fischmann, St. Louis (acquired from the above in 1972)
      Max Palevsky, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in 1974)
      Christie’s, New York, May 6, 1986, lot 56
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, September–November 1969, no. 67 (another example exhibited)
      London, Hayward Gallery, Pop Art, July 9–September 3, 1969
      Paris, Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Lichtenstein: Sculptures, opened March 3, 1970
      New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Group Exhibition: John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, June 17–September 23, 1972
      St. Louis, Greenberg Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, January 2–31, 1973
      Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Roy Lichtenstein: The Modern Work, 1965–1970, November 8–December 31, 1978 (another example exhibited)
      East Hampton, New York, Guild Hall, Roy Lichtenstein: Three Decades of Sculpture, August 15–October 4, 1992 (another example exhibited)
      New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; The Montreal Museum Fine Arts, Roy Lichtenstein, October 8, 1993–September 5, 1994, no. 253, pp. 321, 324-325 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 324-325)
      Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes and Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Roy Lichtenstein: Imágenes reconocibles: Escultura, pintura y gráfica, July 9–October 18, 1998, p. 98; traveled as Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture and Drawings (revised and expanded), November 5, 1998–September 30, 1999, no. 19, p. 84; then traveled as Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno; A Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Roy Lichtenstein: Imagens Reconhecíveis, October 21, 1999–August 15, 2000 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art; Milwaukee Art Museum; Columbia Museum of Art; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Oakland Museum of California, Pop Impact! From Johns to Warhol: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, September 9, 1999–January 6, 2002 (another example exhibited)
      The Art Institute of Chicago; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; London, Tate Modern; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, May 16, 2012–November 4, 2013, no. 93, p. 239 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

    • Literature

      Paul Katz, “Roy Lichtenstein, Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope,” Art Now, New York, I/1, January 1969
      Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1971, no. 159, pp. 204-205, 247 (another example illustrated, pp. 204-205)
      John Coplans, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, New York and Washington, D.C., 1972, no. 60 (another example illustrated)
      Lawrence Alloway, Modern Masters Series: Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1983, no. 57, pp. 58-59 (another example illustrated, p. 59)
      Susan Morgan, “A Few Good Colors Are Plenty: Has it really been 30 years since Roy Lichtenstein first brought us those cartoon paintings? Well, yes. And now take a guided tour with the artist through his life, times and all those dots,” Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1994, online
      Robert Slifkin, Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art, London, 2013, pp. 87-88 (another example illustrated, p. 88)
      Germano Celant, ed., Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, ehx. cat., Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Milan, 2013, no. 45, pp. 88-89, 279 (another example illustrated, p. 89)


Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope

incised with the artist's initials, number and foundry mark "rfl 3–3" on the edge of each base
brass and velvet rope, in 3 parts
left 59 x 25 x 15 in. (149.9 x 63.5 x 38.1 cm)
right 83 1/4 x 26 x 15 in. (211.5 x 66 x 38.1 cm)
rope length 72 in. (182.9 cm)

Executed in 1968, this work is number 3 from an intended edition of 3 (4 were fabricated).

Other examples from the edition are housed in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 November 2022