Friday, June 1, 2012

Lichtenstein at the Art Institute

The best experiences with art are those that take you by surprise.  Yesterday a new friend invited me along to see the temporary Lichtenstein retrospective exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago; my motive for accepting the invitation was to spend time with her at the beautiful museum.  As for Lichtenstein himself, I was lukewarm.  I knew he was a pop artist and I have never been crazy about that particular movement.

This is the kind of work that came to mind at the name Lichtenstein.

His play on gender norms in popular comics is clever, but had never moved me.

Surprisingly, the exhibit affected me powerfully. I found the work captivating, interesting, and sometimes even beautiful.  Giving time over to the works in a museum setting was the best way to appreciate them - radically different from the scrolling, scrolling, scrolling that the internet encourages.  The canvases are huge and their full impact can be felt and artistry understood only on that large scale.  The biggest factor in my appreciation of Lichtenstein, however, came simply from learning about and contemplating his background, intentions, context.

I am a word person: reading an explanation enhances my visual (or auditory, in the case of music) experience.  Upon entering every room at the exhibit, I immediately read the introductions.

A prime example of the power of words on top of art is the Brushstroke series.  Looking at the canvas does little for me emotionally, but reading his intention engaged my intellect.  He said that a brushstroke in traditional painting is a grand gesture, but in this series the brushstroke is a depiction of a grand gesture.  

I enjoyed the sense of play and affection that he brought to other styles of art, such as the work below of traditional Chinese art and others reflecting and commenting on the Matisse and Picasso styles.  This one, Landscape with Lone Philosopher, affected me deeply as I gazed at the half-wall panel.  Unfortunately, the power and sublimity does not come through this little jpeg.  

My favorite Lichtenstein series came one year before his death in 1997 - obliterating brushstrokes.  He said these visions came to him in a dream.  The visual impact alone is strong, but combined with the thought of an elderly man near death painting it from his dreams - obliterating - is enough to move me to tears.

This experience reinforced for me the importance of never discounting an experience, person, or artist before giving the time and effort to learn more and truly consider the merit.  I am grateful for the opportunity to do so with Lichtenstein.  After experiencing the exhibit, I am inspired to seek out new forms of beauty in my photography - and in life.

You can read more about Lichtenstein's work and the Art Institute's retrospective here.