Dorothy Lichtenstein at the Roy Lichtenstein on the Roof exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2003.
NEW YORK AND CAPTIVA ISLAND, FL - Known for her charm, intelligence, personal philanthropy and great friendships with artists and collectors alike, Dorothy Lichtenstein–president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation–grants a rare interview to Anthony Barzilay Freund.
Dorothy Herzka met Roy Lichtenstein in 1964, when she was the director of New York’s Bianchini Gallery and staging The American Supermarket, a show of contemporary art that included Lichtenstein’s depiction of a cooked turkey. Married in 1968, they remained together until the artist’s death in 1997. Three years later, she set up the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. The primary goal of the foundation, according to Dorothy, is to further the understanding of her late-husband’s work and the work of other artists of his time. Indeed, more than a decade after his death, Roy Lichtenstein has never strayed far from the spotlight, both in terms of museum and gallery exhibitions and masterworks coming to the auction block. (This May, Sotheby’s is offering his Sleeping Girl) To wit: Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style just closed out its run at Gagosian’s 24th Street gallery, following a successful showing in the dealer’s Hong Kong space. While the ambitious Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, which opens on 16 May at the Art Institute of Chicago, should bring a legion of new fans to Lichtenstein’s work and show the range and versatility of the artist best-known for his 1960s riffs on cartoons done with his signature Ben Day dots. (The show travels on to the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Modern in London.)
Dorothy Lichtenstein recently spoke with me from her home on Captiva Island, Florida.
Tell me about your work with the foundation. What do you see as its main mission? Initially, our primary goal was the publication of a catalogue raisonné. We planned to do this traditionally, as a hard-copy book. After some deliberation, we decided to publish online and we have been working steadily to that end. In the interim, we have worked with other artists’ foundations to share our experience as well as to benefit from their experience and wisdom.
What do you view as your proudest accomplishments? Other than our brilliant and devoted staff, we are pleased and proud to have acquired an archive of someone other than Roy: the photographers Harry Shunk and Jean Kender. Our mission is to further knowledge of Roy and the art of his time and the Shunk Kender Archive contains a vast trove of photographs of Roy as well as other artists from the late 1950s up through the ’80s. It truly covers the art of Roy’s time.
The acquisition felt as if the universe had delivered it to our doorstep. In fact, shortly before his death, Shunk had personally delivered two boxes of photographs of Roy to us. Then in 2008, an art appraiser whom we were working with announced during a visit that she had been called upon to give an appraisal after Shunk’s death. When we went to look at the collection there were boxes filled with photos of Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Christo, Yves Klein, Warhol and on…the art of Roy’s time. It seemed a no-brainer to acquire it in fulfillment of our mission.
I would add that given Roy’s diffidence and generosity, he would appreciate having the foundation support work besides his.
Are there other artist foundations that you particularly admire? Dedalus, which is robert motherwell’s foundation? Warhol? Rauschenberg? Well, I now serve on the board of the Rauschenberg Foundation so I will recuse myself from singing its many praises. It is difficult to single out one or two. I think they all have slightly different missions as well as resources. All that I know of are open, dedicated and work for the benefit of artists in numerous ways. I recently heard that the Mapplethorpe Foundation gave a $500,000 grant to a small museum. Noguchi has done wonderful exhibitions and collaborations. Warhol has devised new models of philanthropy. I am referring only to posthumous foundations. There are also manyliving artist’s foundations engaged in excellent work.
You joined the Rauschenberg Foundation board no doubt through your friendship with the artist, your longtime Captiva neighbor who died in 2008. I adored Bob and we would not have come to Captiva if not for him. When he passed, Jack Cowart, the Lichtenstein Foundation director, said: “Losing Bob is like losing a continent.” I agree.
Are there any misconceptions about Roy’s work that you feel the foundation needs to correct? The general conception seems to be “Lichtenstein equals cartoons.” Roy in fact painted for many years prior to his “pop” style in the early sixties. And by the mid-sixties he was working on a more abstract series of Mirrors. There is an Art Deco series where style is the subject matter. And of course, the Brushstrokes, which he was able to use in multiple ways. Sculpture was always a significant interest and the general public is perhaps now becoming aware of Roy as an important sculptor.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl is for sale in Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale on May 9, 2012.
For that reason are you excited about the upcoming retrospective, traveling from Chicago to the National Gallery and Tate Modern?
I’m always excited to be informed by new understandings and interpretations ofRoy’s work. New generations of art historians and critics come with fresh eyes. But I must say the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery in D.C., and the Tate with their great histories and collections are particularly awesome. Following the Tate, in July of 2013, a somewhat different iteration will take place at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In your introduction to photographer Laurie Lambrecht’s recent book, Roy Lichtenstein: In his Studio, you write: “a finished Lichtenstein is generally hard-edged, apparently seamless; one almost never sees the process…which Laurie’s photos capture.” Do you think many people don’t realize how much of his “hand” is in these works? Roy’s hand is certainly apparent in the early work when he had to simulate dots and Ben Day half tones with more primitive tools. Once he was able to afford perforated paper and more costly supplies, the work actually became more labour intensive but appeared less “painterly” as his technique matured.
Curiously, I think Roy’s hand may be more apparent in his graphic work, possibly because of the use of various printing methods; wood-cut, aquatint, embossing, etc. The studio was Roy’s favourite “hangout.”
He usually worked with one assistant but kept close watch and definitely made sure the lines were his. He even liked the busy work of cleaning brushes. I think he thought of all that as the necessary “legwork” along the road.
How do you feel the passage of time has treated the works, the perception of the works and the reputation of Roy himself? I think that Roy’s work still looks completely fresh and contemporary. Once in a Tokyo Museum we entered a room full of contemporary art; Roy looked at his painting and said, “Good Lord, it still doesn’t look housebroken.”
How has the art world changed in the years you’ve been involved in it? The art world is now so much larger than it was in the sixties. We thought we knew all the artists working at the time throughout the U.S. and Europe; of course we didn’t but we were close.
Before you were honoured by the Parrish Art Museum in 2009, Vogue.com called you “one of the most beloved women in the art world.” How do you think you came by that title? I learned everything I know about being nice from living with Roy for thirty-five years.
Anthony Barzilay Freund is the director of fine art at 1stdibs.com and is a contributing editor for Sotheby’s at Auction
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Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke Head III is for sale
in Sotheby’s Contemporary Day Sale on May 10, 2012