Legendary American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein takes center stage at the National Gallery of Art this month with the first major exhibition since the artist’s death in 1997: "Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective." It is fitting that the international tour includes a stop at the National Gallery, the only East Coast venue to present the retrospective. The museum has a long history of collecting and exhibiting the artist’s work, and the first painting to feature his hallmark Ben-Day dots, Look Mickey (1961), is in fact drawn from the gallery’s permanent collection.
“Look Mickey is his first Pop painting, and everything else in the exhibition follows,” says the gallery’s Harry Cooper, curator and head of modern and contemporary art. “The painting was a gift from Roy and Dorothy [Lichtenstein] on the 50th anniversary of the National Gallery. It’s one of the most important gifts we have ever gotten directly from the artist.”
The retrospective is comprised of some 130 paintings from every stage of the artist’s career, as well as a selection of sculpture and works on paper; the pieces run the gamut from Lichtenstein’s famous comic-strip canvases to his lesser known landscapes and nudes. Unlike past surveys, including the most recent one at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1993, the current exhibition presents work from the artist’s last period. “He was very productive in those final few years,” Cooper explains. “Works that were left in his studio will be on view for the first time… so that certainly makes this show special.”
Visitors will also encounter a print exclusive to the National Gallery. In a nod to the current presidential election season, The Oval Office (1992) will appear in the lobby of the large auditorium in the East Building. “It depicts an empty Oval Office, so the question is: Who’s going to fill it?” says Cooper.
To explain Lichtenstein’s cultural and historical importance, the curators have dedicated an entire section of the exhibition to his relationships with art of the past. At times a sharp commentary on society, the vast exhibition reminds us that his body of work and resulting legacy is about much more than colored dots and cartoon characters. "Lichtenstein: A Retrospective" will be on view at the National Gallery of Art from October 14–January 13, 2013. Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-737-4215