The Stand-up Comic as Artist

Roy Lichtenstein.

His name evokes different things to different people.

He is a papa of POP art, that smack-you-up-the-side-of-the-head art that came onto the scene in the 1960s. When Andy Warhol celebrity images and Peter Max scarves were en vogue. When the tongue-in-cheek adult comic book "Batman" was on the tube for adults, complete with "BAM" and other visual sound effects.

Been there, lived through that--I really wasn't a fan. But my son is, so I thought--give it a chance.

The word was out. The remarkable, no. 2 in the nation Art Institute of Chicago was to have a Roy Lichtenstein retrospective with 170 pieces of his work. I was taken aback, but not goody-goody-gum-drops, clapping my hands together in anticipation. But as a volunteer at the Art Institute of Chicago (and member), I went to see what all the fuss was about when the show opened to members this past week. And I'm so very glad.

I went to the talks, both of which were like dripping light into the world of the blind. The talk by the Chicago curator, the effervescent (like Lichtenstein's black and white drawing with Alka Seltzer) James Rondeau sucked me into the humorous and intricate mind of Lichtenstein.

So I went to see the show, beautifully mounted in Regenstein Hall, twice. I was entranced. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The man clearly had a sense of whimsy. No serious, so full-of-myself artist was Lichtenstein. In the first gallery is the hidden for almost 20 years iconic image from a children's golden book, "Look Mickey". I like to think of it as an easel painting with training wheels, that soon would come off as Lichtenstein found his visual voice.

Honoring the banal with black and white paintings of a tire, Lichtenstein brought into public discussion the question, what is art? In creating original art works of mass produced items, he forced the viewer to consider--does a tire have beauty? As the audio tour says, paintings are "...just another object in a world of objects."

According to the audio tour, he "has a terrific sense of humor." No kidding, as seen by his parodies of the so-called abstract expressionism that he clearly was not a part of. The 1951 "Washington Crossing the Delaware", in a naive style in Gallery 182--was my personal favorite, as in, which of these would you put on your wall (if it wasn't already on another's and you had the deep pockets of some presidential candidates.)

One room is dedicated to his sampling of other artists works, a sort of scavenger hunt for any art student past year one to identify--who he is taking off on. According to the audio guide, not everyone was amused. But though threatened with words in newspapers and grumbles, apparently in those less litigious days--he was not sued.

Using a variety of media, including a dip into the delightfully Fred & Ginger years of Art Deco (Cubist housewares as described by another), Lichtenstein's twinkle in his eye and "trademark irony" (audio guide) are on view. The man tried a bit of it all. Three dimensional sculpture, two dimensional sculpture--drawings, collage--and more. He was like a stand-up comic, only instead of verbalizing he visualized them.

So opening on Tuesday, 22 May 2012--give Roy Lichtenstein a whirl before the show galivants off to Washington DC, London and Paris. Chicago has never had it so good.

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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