Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Akron, Akron Art Museum; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Power: Its Myths and Mores in American Culture, 1961-1991, September 1991 - July 1992, p. 40, no. 12, illustrated
By the late 1960s, Minimalism was at its zenith in the New York art world. Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, and Sol Lewitt dominated the discourse with their enticing brand of conceptualism and austere elegant forms. Thus, after years of high-key super-saturated paintings of massive graphic impact and overwhelming Pop art impetus, Lichtenstein tuned into the minimalist discourse. He turned to series like the Stretcher Bars, which riffed on monochrome painting, recreating canvas versos upon their rectos in his trademark graphic style, and also began the Pyramids: sophisticated paintings and an experimental series of sculptures in which geometric forms and angular planes became the defining feature. In comparison to his earlier works they feel crisp in design, cool in execution, bold in palette, and even pseudo-abstract in form.
Lichtenstein did not turn to the pyramidal form at random. Pyramids were popular amongst the 1960s minimalists; a shape that a number of them called upon. Principal amongst the exponents of this motif was Sol Lewitt who made massive outdoor pyramids from blocks of stone, and indoor versions in trademark cubes of wood; he even extrapolated the form into his wall drawings and experimented with different geometric iterations. Meanwhile, in 1964, Robert Morris created the celebrated Corner Piece sculpture, now owned by the Guggenheim Museum, which re-articulated the gallery space, relating to the viewer on an immediate physical and temporal basis. Flavin took a different approach to exploring the pyramid shape when he created the series of Monuments for Tatlin during the late 1960s. This was minimalism as figuration; in pre-fabricated neon tubes, he approximated Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed design for the Monument to the Third International (1919-120): the Bolshevik cenotaph would have dwarfed the Eiffel tower if realised. Flavin’s homage to it is semi-ironic: simplistic where the proposed monument was a complex structure of intricate design. The glow of Flavin’s pre-fabricated neon tubes seem to parodise the traditional grandeur of overpowering architecture.
Like Flavin, Lichtenstein was working in a representational manner in Pyramids; his shapes are not just exercises in abstract geometry, but rather, with yellow monochromatic ground and grisaille shadow and sky, they are graphic reductions of architectonic landscapes. In this regard, Lichtenstein can be seen as one of a number of artists in the Twentieth Century who have called upon the Pyramids as subject matter. Gerhard Richter created paintings of pyramids in 1964 and 1966 in his idiosyncratic photo-painting style. Like Lichtenstein, he found that the iconic nature of the Egyptian Pyramids allowed for total recognisability, even when refracted through the prism of a conceptually advanced painterly style. In the years following Lichtenstein’s work, Keith Haring used pyramids regularly. He valued them for their symbolic portent, for in American culture in the 1960s,’70s, and ‘80s, Pyramids were closely associated with UFO sightings and extra-terrestrial life, based on the 'Ancient Astronauts' conspiracy theorists, who argued that many sites like the Pyramids at Giza were built by visiting aliens in ancient and prehistoric times. In this light, it is interesting to note that a possible source of inspiration may have been a House of Secrets comic strip, which showed an alien life form hovering near a great pyramid.
Pyramids is on one level an exemplar of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1960s praxis: a bold, graphic depiction of an instantly recognisable subject, executed in bright colour that evokes the aesthetic of popular comic books. Yet, in other respects, it represents a dramatic progression within his style; a move towards a more sophisticated, even academic approach to art, where formal qualities are valued on the same level as poetic meaning. It is a work of dramatic immediacy that is immediately recognisable as Lichtenstein. In this regard, we are reminded of the artist’s 1988 assessment: “All painters take a personal attitude toward painting. What makes each object in the work is that it is organized by that artist’s vision. The style and the content are also different from anyone else’s. They are unified by the point of view – mine. This is the big tradition of art” (Roy Lichtenstein cited in: Calvin Tomkins, Roy Lichtenstein: Mural with Blue Brushstroke, New York 1988, p. 42).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale