This special exhibit at the National Gallery was enlightening. I benefited from seeing a collection of Lichtenstein’s work in person; context is quite meaningful in the case of his work – it is, in fact, the point of his work.
It’s one thing to see digital representations of his comic-inspired works and to compare the to some of the comic originals, (a number of critiques complain that the comic originals are “better” than his reproductions – “Lichtenstein made amateurish renditions of art made by better people and better artists than him.”) but the physical size of many of his pieces is impressive and means something in the comparison; Lichtenstein is not just reproducing comic panels, but is also enlarging them to outsized proportions and divorcing them from the rest of their comic story to make commentary on social issues.
The size of his works emphasize the messages and alter their meanings beyond the intent of the comic panels, and the impact of that commentary is not something as easily dismissed when you’re standing in front of a collection of his works. Looking at his works in person, it becomes clear that comparing a 2-inch comic panel and a 10-foot-tall painting that is grouped with other paintings of the same subject matter is a silly and willfully obtuse exercise.
And though Lichtenstein was often influenced by comics, he also took inspiration from MANY other sources and, and his execution of those works is superb; he wasn’t just a painter but produced bold and interesting works in other mediums as well.
In viewing his work, I came away with a dozen creative ideas of my own and a new found respect for an artist I hadn’t understood previously, and for that I’m very glad.