Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective @Tate Modern

I’ll keep this short and sour. As I was going around the Lichtenstein exhibition, I started taking notes, as I always do at galleries. I jot down my first impressions; the emotions, ideas and allusions that the art evokes. I have my own shorthand. S*** if I don’t like it, WOW if I do. Sometimes my notes get a little more sophisticated. But not much.

Anyway, I was doing my note-taking as I went around, and I realised I had nothing to write. The gallery’s commentary covered it all. With Lichtenstein there is no interpretation to do and, beyond a wry raise of the eyebrow, no emotion to register. Yes, the composition is amazing, and I’d sacrifice a limb (or at least a little finger) to have his grasp on it, but I think the same about most decent painters.

Isn’t it ironic and clever, his counterpoint between popular culture and high art, I hear you ask. Yes, it is, but so is a Snoopy strip. I don’t give those a second thought either. And the dots, isn’t it interesting to see such a repetitive process create individual artworks? Well, okay, it is a little interesting, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They are far from a homage to the transformative power of art.

And this is a BIG show. So there’s plenty of space to show the paucity of Lichtenstein’s vision. After room 4, which displays the massive ‘Oh Jeff, I Love You But…’ canvasses and their ilk from the 1960s – for which he is so famous – it’s all downhill. Since the hill wasn’t exactly a towering mountain of genius in the first place, it’s a short, steep fall.

Later in life he copied works by artists’ greater than himself, for no perceivable reason, then took on a series of public and corporate commissions, including the logo for Spielberg’s Dreamworks Records label in 1996.

Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles

Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles

Lichtenstein's Bedroom at Arles. What a joke.

Lichtenstein’s Bedroom at Arles. What a joke.

Even he had to admit that he was ashamed to have sold out so completely, but I’m sure the cold, hard cash was a great comfort. The logo he came up with is as literal and childish as his painting above might suggest:


The last room at the Tate, showing his final work, holds pieces so forgettable and meaningless that I literally can’t be bothered to remember what they were.

I’ve been harsh, but Roy would understand. He’s become part of the artistic canon, but I’m sure, if he were alive, he’d remember the title of the Life magazine article in 1966 which asked, ‘Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?’ In fact, he put it best himself. Looking at his work, he said, ” I wouldn’t call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art.” Here here, I say.

Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective runs at the Tate Modern until 27th May 2013

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About Mary-Claire W

Writer, reader and art fiend View all posts by Mary-Claire W

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