- Roy Lichtenstein
- Ice Cream Soda
- signed and dated '62 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 64 3/4 x 32 1/8 in. 164.5 x 81.7 cm.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in March 1962
Paris, Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Pop art américain, May 1963
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art; Waltham, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art; Columbus, Columbus Museum of Art; La Jolla, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, Six Painters and the Object, March 1963 - May 1964, illustrated
Providence, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Recent Still Life, February - April 1966, cat. no. 43, illustrated
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art & Atkins Museum of Fine Arts; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Seattle, Seattle Art Museum; Columbus, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Roy Lichtenstein, September 1969 - August 1970, cat. no. 9 (exhibited in New York and Kansas City only)
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Early Black and White Paintings, November - December 2001, p. 41, illustrated in color
Michael Lenson, "The Realm of Art", Newark Sunday News, April 21, 1963, p. W14, illustrated
Doris Brown, "Two Douglass Professors are Leading the Pop Art Charge", The Arts and Hobbies, April 28, 1963, p. 20, illustrated
Alberto Boatto and Giordano Falzoni eds., Lichtenstein, Rome, 1966, p. 19, illustrated
John Russell and Suzi Gablik, eds. Pop Art Redefined, London, 1969, pl. 106, illustrated
Annette Michelson, "Pop Art Redefined", The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1969, p. 7, illustrated
Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1971, fig. 48, illustrated in color
Sam Hunter, American Art of the 20th Century, New York, 1973, fig 620, p. 336, illustrated
Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1983, p. 18, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Rome, Palazzo Civiltà del Lavoro, Artoon: L'influenza del fumetto nelle arti visive del XX secolo, 1989, p. 25, illustrated
Tony Hendra, Brad '61: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, New York, 1993, p. 21, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, p. 11, illustrated (1969 Guggenheim exhibition installation photograph)
Exh. Cat., Bregenz, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Roy Lichtenstein – Classic of the New, 2005, p. 41, illustrated in color
Susan Goldman Rubin, Whaam!: The Art & Life of Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 2008, p. 8, illustrated in color
In the 1940s and 1950s, American artists followed the modernist example of abandoning traditional artistic genres and styles in favor of reexaminations that shattered long-held tenets and startled the art audience and critics. Realistic subject matter, such as still-lifes, landscapes and figuration, gave way to abstraction in many forms that expressed the inner impulse of the artist in response to the society around him. Younger artists of the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein key among them, were no less eager to find their own radical aesthetic means to challenge the style championed by the generation before them, in this case de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko and the other giants of the New York School. With a great sense of irony, many chose to subvert the equation, turning it on its head with a puckish sense of wit and independence. In the case of Lichtenstein, he returned to the realism of painting people and things, eschewing the emotive spirit of Surrealism in favor of the conceptualism of Dada, allowing him to investigate the mechanics of painting. Like Marcel Duchamp, he would question the nature of art by choosing subject matter from the everyday, thus becoming one of the founders of American Pop art. Lichtenstein collected and collated imagery from the plethora of printed sources available to American consumerist society in the economic hey-day of the late 1950s and 1960s – from the comic strips, magazines, newspapers and the copious world of print advertising. Ice Cream Soda, from 1962, is a momentous example of the masterpieces that Lichtenstein painted in the early 1960s that are now part of our cultural heritage. Sourced as a Duchampian "ready-made", such found imagery had little association with narrative subject matter or painterly mark-making, allowing Lichtenstein to render the act of making art the ultimate subject of his oeuvre. Through both technique, composition and subject, Ice Cream Soda is a stunning example of the single-object still-lifes that are the essence of Lichtenstein as a Pop innovator.
Lichtenstein is acknowledged as the master of graphic clarity and a genius of image appropriation who crafted Pop art masterpieces that redefined the boundaries between High and Low art through an ironic interplay of popular culture and fine art. Along with the beautiful blondes of the romance comics and the explosive narrative of the war and adventure comics, the domestic object paintings such as Ice Cream Soda are rendered onto Lichtenstein's canvases with the most modern and graphic means, stressing their artificiality and their source by co-opting the same illustrative methods. With his invention of the Benday dot as his signature technique, coupled with the bold contour lines and reductive palette that he preferred, Lichtenstein created works that acknowledge the two-dimensionality of the image source and of the canvas surface. In the paintings of the early 1960s, such as Ice Cream Soda, Lichtenstein would retain the cartoonist or commercial artist's means for suggesting spatial depth, as in the deep blue curves and swirls that denote reflections on the soda glass, and chose to portray the foaming head of soda and ice cream as spilling over the front rim of the glass. But in the early, more hand-painted canvases such as the present work and Girl with Ball (1961, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) Lichtenstein's choice of a reduced color palette and his use of a flattened, Benday-dotted ground, purge any standard form of perspective or spatial depth from the painting. In the 2005 catalogue for the Kunsthaus Bregenz exhibition of the art's work, Michael Lobel noted the extent to which these early Pop paintings illuminated Lichtenstein's close study of commercial printing techniques. "Much has been made of Lichtenstein's reduction of palette to black, white and the three primaries (red, yellow and blue) which is related not only to the standardized colors of mechanical printing but also to the chromatic reduction pursued by such earlier modernist painters as Piet Mondrian. In his earliest Pop-object paintings, Lichtenstein experimented with various color combinations within this reduced chromatic range. For instance, at times he used blue as a substitute for black, as in such paintings as Peanut Butter Cup and Ice Cream Soda. In a 1967 interview Lichtenstein commented on this substitution, which he claimed to have derived from a common practice in commercial art: 'I like the idea of blue and white very much because a lot of commercial artists use it to get a free color. Blue does for black as well; it is an economic thing. So I liked the idea of an apparent economic reason for making one color work as two colors.' " (Exh. Cat., Bregenz, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Roy Lichtenstein – Classic of the New, 2005, p. 20)
His single-object paintings of 1961 to 1963, including the present work and Golf Ball, Tire (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Curtains (St. Louis Art Museum), all from 1962, are the purest form of image-making to be found anywhere in Lichtenstein's oeuvre. With the impact of a logo, sign-post or religious icon, they reduce consumer and mass culture to a common denominator. While artists such as Johns might choose "found" images as a means to focus on the formal properties of paint, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Warhol were fully aware that the viewer's preconceptions of objects would be as integral a part of their perception of the work as color, composition or technique. Whether Warhol culled images from advertising as in Telephone  or movie fan magazines as in his Marilyn portraits, the impact and undercurrents of the subjects was a cornerstone of his aesthetic intent. The frothy, inviting subject of Ice Cream Soda has a strong cultural resonance, particularly for Lichtenstein's audience of the 1950s and 1960s. The soda fountain – whether in a local luncheonette, diner or drugstore – was a social magnet, particularly for the teens and adolescents. Norman Rockwell's The Soda Jerk appeared on an August 1953 cover of The Saturday Evening Post as one of the artist's quintessential depictions of Middle America. The glow of young innocence, the spark of flirtation and the requisite family dog all speak of the ease and prosperity of young America, especially as experienced by the youths and teenagers unaffected by the war years of the previous decades. The ice cream soda itself was invented in Philadelphia in the 1870s during that city's sesquicentennial when a vendor wanted to attract more customers to his stand – another example of American innovation and ingenuity.
The Pop-object paintings also are a harbinger of the 1980s Still-life paintings to come and an early indication of Lichtenstein's ultimate subject: art about art. In the coming decades, Lichtenstein would engage with the traditional genres abandoned by his 20th century predecessors in order to grapple with the meaning and purpose of art. Just as Old Master Dutch still-life's are a coded and symbolic representation of the mores or class or life styles of their owners, Lichtenstein understood that the objects of our time and our surroundings have loaded meanings that can be rendered in a distant and graphic manner but may never be empty of reference. The multi-faceted meaning of subject matter, whether overt or subtle - and the dialectic about the place of art between Low and High culture is certainly a terrain still well traveled by artists of today, such as Jeff Koons.
Lichtenstein's pre-Pop paintings of the 1950s had been exhibited in New York, but it was not until the paintings of 1960 and 1961 that his work came to the attention of a gallery poised to catapult itself and its artists to the forefront of American Art. The suave and shrewd Leo Castelli made his mark as curator of the avant-garde Ninth Street show in 1951 that was the result of a protest by the New York School artists against juried exhibitions of the day. Castelli did not open his own gallery until February 1957. By early 1958, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg joined the gallery and were given solo shows, making Castelli's gallery the ambition of aspiring young painters. The painter and proponent of Happenings, Allan Kaprow, arranged a meeting for Lichtenstein with Ivan Karp, the director of Castelli's gallery and soon Castelli gave Lichtenstein the first of many shows at his gallery. Ice Cream Soda was acquired in March 1962 from the Castelli gallery, the same month as the artist's inaugural show, and has remained in the same collection since that time.