Lot 1086
  • 1086

ROY LICHTENSTEIN | The Conversation

16,000,000 - 24,000,000 HKD
16,320,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • The Conversation
  • painted and patinated bronze
  • 123.2 (H) by 104.1 by 29.8 cm;  48½ (H) by 41 by 11¾ in.
signed, dated 84 and numbered 6/6


Estate of the artist
Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; South Carolina, Gibbes Art Gallery; Minnesota, Walker Art Center, Roy Lichtenstein as Sculptor: Recent Works 1977-1984, February 1985 – March 1986
New York, Thompson Street, Roy Lichtenstein: Bronze Sculptures 1976-1989, May – July 1989
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Montreal, Musée des Beaux Arts; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Roy Lichtenstein, September 1984 – January 1995
Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes; Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey; Washington D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art; Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno; La Corunam Fundacion Pedro Barrié de la Maza; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belem, Roy Lichtenstein, Escultura, Pintura Y Grafica, July 1998 – August 2000
Milan, Milan Triennale; Cologne, Ludwig Museum, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, January – October 2010
Venice, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, May – November 2013


Frederic Tuten, Roy Lichtenstein: Bronze Sculpture 1976-1989, New York, 1989, p. 15, illustrated p. 17
D. Waldman ed., Roy Lichtenstein, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993, pp. 327, (illustrated fig. 265), p. 334
J. Cowart, C. Lozano, N. Spector, A. Arteaga ed., Lichtenstein: Sculpture & Drawings, Landucci Editores, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 17, 34-35, 53 (illustrated fig. 98), p. 149

Catalogue Note

“The Conversation…is his most paradigmatic work, expressive of Lichtenstein’s aesthetic tensions (what once would have been termed his Classical and Romantic polarities) and his humor, irony, and wit”
Frederic Tuten, Roy Lichtenstein: Bronze Sculpture 1976-1989, New York, 1989, p. 15

There is a vital and inimitable thread of genius that runs through the most successful works of Roy Lichtenstein’s prodigious career, defined by his enduring talent to capture that split-second revelation - the shadow of an internal monologue - as it flickers across the faces of his legendary cast of characters. Whether it is the unraveling of a truth through its hesitant utterance, from “It’s…It’s not an engagement ring, is it?” (1961) to “Oh, Jeff…I love you, too…But…” (1964); or a hidden thought silently exposed, from “I know how you must feel, Brad” (1963) to “I know his heart is always with me” (1963): at the epicenter of Lichtenstein’s best output lies a sensational revelation of dramatic tension.

Lichtenstein was a master storyteller who was able to capture the grandest narrative in an instant snapshot using his aesthetically democratic and supremely economical language of Pop Art. He understood that the most compelling stories are human, and thus time and again his paintings expose the highs and lows of human relationships. The viewer is consistently invited to a privileged vantage point within the scene to share a psychosomatic topography from the character’s perspective. And of course relationships are fuelled by dialogue and conversation.

Hence within the context of Lichtenstein’s career-long fascination with re-presenting the manifold narratives of human relationships, his masterful sculpture The Conversation of 1984 represents the quintessential epitome of his brand of dramatic revelation. The Conversation is among his most important sculptures and the culmination of studies that he had initiated in 1981, as well as a preparatory maquette. As explained by his friend, the novelist Frederic Tuten: “Lichtenstein says that the two forms are male and female, following the cliché that represents the curvilinear as female and the hard edged geometric as male. But I take also the idea that the conversation is one which Lichtenstein has been having with himself and his audience, in and through his art. A conversation which we, through his sculpture, are witnesses rather than auditors… It is his most paradigmatic work, expressive of Lichtenstein’s aesthetic tensions (what once would have been termed his Classical and Romantic polarities) and his humor, irony, and wit.” (Frederic Tuten, Roy Lichtenstein: Bronze Sculpture 1976-1989, New York, 1989, p. 15)

Indeed, The Conversation exists not only between a female and a male and between a cursive ideal of beauty and a reductive totem of angularity; but also between fundamental art historical idioms of representation. This intense narrative, thematic and conceptual poignancy is captured with a brilliant economy of form that truly stands as testament to Lichtenstein’s extraordinary genius. Furthermore, it is manifestly inspired by and an extension of the great legacies of Art History, spanning the fabled motif of the Artist and Model, exemplified by artists from Titian to Velazquez to Manet, Matisse and Picasso. Moreover, through his incorporation of reductive sculptural planes to define the angular head, rendered with a heavily stylized wood-grain schema, Lichtenstein pays explicit homage to Analytic and Synthetic Cubism. Meanwhile, the sinuous linearity of the floating female head is a direct quotation from the vocabulary of high Surrealism. Finally, the starkly graphic hatching of the face cites the mechanical vernacular of mass-reproduction printing methods that were the very template for Pop Art’s groundbreaking appropriation.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Lichtenstein produced a complex body of sculpture whose images continued the investigation that his paintings began; but thrust into and reimagined for three-dimensional space. These bold and graphic works challenge the methods and notions of visual perception and subverted the illusion of representation. As Jack Cowart expounds “The complex world of Lichtenstein’s sculptural forms, which he so joyously created for us, and shared with us in so many ways from the 1940s to the late 1990s, remains as permanent reminder of his visual acuity, inquisitiveness, intelligence, energy, and the multiple personalities of his art, over and through time.” (Jack Cowart, Cassandra Lozano, Naomi Spector, Agustin Arteaga, Lichtenstein: Sculpture & Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 25)

Despite earlier forays, Lichtenstein began making sculpture in earnest in the early 1960s, directly following his first exhibition of paintings at the Leo Castelli Gallery, and his earliest sculptures included standardized interpretations of everyday household objects and stylized heads, both of which were directly influenced by the representation of commercial objects in his paintings. Towards the end of the late 1970s, Lichtenstein began to translate forms and styles from his earlier paintings into painted bronze sculptures. His technical virtuosity has long been lauded and the rigorous high standards in quality he set himself in his painting remained true in his sculpture. His bronze sculptures typically started as sketches of imagined forms stimulated by both mass media and art history, before he created working models and maquettes. The full-scale maquettes were subsequently used to create the casting molds of sculptures. This magnificently executed work is thus the result of several stages of careful planning and very considerable fabrication.

Ultimately The Conversation is testament to one of the great artists of the Twentieth Century, and his exceptional capacity to conflate spectacular innovations in thematic, conceptual, aesthetic and art historical ambitions. In her 1999 essay “Plane Talk: Notes on Lichtenstein’s Sculptures,” Naomi Spector lucidly describes the very specific physicality of The Conversation, and how the experience of this sculpture informs its very narrative:
“Along with ben-day dots, a standard graphic device for color and tone, is parallel lines, hatching. They are used to great effect in The Conversation, 1984, though now in the language of surrealism. Here the wavy outline of the woman’s face in profile is filled in with the conventional parallel red diagonal lines. When you see them head-on, the graphic device translated into three dimensions makes you smile. But as you step to the side of the nearly flat sculpture, the spaces between the lines disappear and the redness looks solid. Perhaps she is blushing! Then, as you get the reverse side, the interstices reappear.

So, the viewer has it both ways. But for her partner in the conversation, the edges of the thick, dark “wood-grain” planks of his face shape up stiffly at the front edge of her outlined profile so that, two dimensionally speaking, she is invisible to him – not to mention her feelings. The possibility of chitchat between them seems unlikely. She seems all limp and wavy, with her head poised on the tip of her blond curl; and he is all stiffly angled dark bronze blocks. Amidst Lichtenstein’s general atmosphere of bright calm, this sculpture allows new readings of the phrase “side by side,” and intimates some of the tension we feel between the lines in Matisse’s painting of the same title.” (Jack Cowart, Cassandra Lozano, Naomi Spector, Agustin Arteaga, Lichtenstein: Sculpture & Drawings, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 34-35)