Whammo! 'Roy Lichtenstein: Interiors' Hits the Museum of Contemporary Art with Bold Colors, Distinct Images and Comic Strip Benday Dots

Article excerpt

Byline: Barbara Vitello Daily Herald Staff Writer

Roy Lichtenstein's paintings are the visual equivalent of a comic strip "whammo!"

Looking at a Lichtenstein - with its bold primary colors, razor-sharp images outlined in black and Benday dots used in commercial printing - was like viewing a Marvel or a DC Comic under a microscope.

Inspired by comic strips and the Sunday funnies, Lichtenstein (1923-1997) transformed mundane images into masterworks that were immediately accessible and enormously engaging. In the process, he helped usher in the most significant American art movement of the 20th century.

And now, more than 30 years after he elevated campy cartoon images to the pantheon of high art, he continues to resonate with artists and fans alike. While Andy Warhol's soup cans remain a quaint reminder of Pop Art's heyday, Lichtenstein's influence continues to dominate not only contemporary art, but pop culture consciousness as well.

Earlier this month, for example, "Newsweek" featured a Lichtenstein-esque illustration by Mitch O'Connell on its cover. And, while those kinds of illustrations are commonplace today, they would not exist had Lichtenstein not imagined them more than three decades ago.

Now, with a new retrospective opening Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the public has an opportunity to see a different, yet equally intriguing, side to this pillar of Pop Art.

Exclusive to the MCA, "Roy Lichtenstein: Interiors" is the first exhibit devoted entirely to the artist's use of the interior as a subject.

Curated by MCA director Robert Fitzpatrick and Dorothy Lichtenstein, the retrospective features more than 60 paintings (including the artist's major 1990s interiors) along with prints, drawings and sculptures as well as several smaller works that he "quoted" in his large works.

"The interiors, his last great body of work, have only been seen as part of a larger show," says Fitzpatrick, a longtime Lichtenstein admirer who first organized an exhibit of the artist's drawings and collages 22 years ago as president of Cal Arts.

Although they are among the most spectacular of his career, these works may never be exhibited together again. Because many of the works belong to private collectors who rarely lend them for exhibition, it is unlikely that a museum would be able to stage a retrospective like this any time soon.

The fact that the MCA has done so testifies as much to fortuitous timing as it does to their importance as works of art.

Ordinarily, a retrospective of this kind would take three to four years to arrange, says Fitzpatrick, who took over as director of the MCA last year. A gap in the exhibition schedule, however, made it possible for the museum to mount the exhibit.

In an essay written for the exhibit's companion catalogue, Fitzpatrick describes the artfully arranged yet mostly uninhabited rooms, as "caricatures of the excessive '80s documented in colorful spreads of art-filled interiors in magazines like 'Architectural Digest.' "

Pristine and distant, the interiors are testaments to conspicuous consumption.

"He is, in effect, doing a send-up of those interiors," Fitzpatrick explains. "They were places where no one lived."

"There is no clutter, no human presence," writes Fitzpatrick in his essay, "Perfect Pictures." "Even the occasional nude seems to adorn rather than inhabit the space."

Yet Lichtenstein's sly wit and sense of humor is evident in each. …