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Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars
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About the item

Lichtenstein’s Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars is a quintessential Sixties painting, a perfect amalgam of Pop sensibility and insightful engagement with prevailing art trends of the day. Executed by Lichtenstein at the height of his powers as a fully established and influential member of the New York cultural milieu, the work demonstrates an important developmental leap in his practice; that of his preparedness to challenge the parameters of his own working modes within the context of other competing developments in visual culture contemporaneously unfolding around him. Stretcher Frame With Vertical Bars is a work that also engages with the dual art historical traditions of ‘art about art’ and trompe l’oeil. Of course, Lichtenstein had previously explored the notion of making paintings about art itself, with the eponymous text painting, Art, of 1962, being one of the first declarations of this aspect of his corpus, but as his vision matured the complexity of this exploration was exponentially refined as evidenced in the present painting. Beginning with his early Pop Art paintings of mass-produced images from advertisements and comic strips, Lichtenstein had always maintained the integrity of the two-dimensional canvas surface. The monochrome background, un-modulated bright color and Benday dot pattern flattened and dematerialized his chosen subject so that figure and ground were integrated on the surface of the painting. Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars is an interesting development and departure from the codified syntax of this formula. Lichtenstein had already stopped incorporating text in his work by 1966, ensuring that his art was increasingly less literal in its exploration of the dichotomy between the `high' and `low' imagery of visual culture. His ability to elevate `low’ art media into a `high’ art context through its appropriation was well established by this time, but he now leveraged his visual lexicon to more specifically investigate and challenge accepted normative components of `high' art painting. His subject matter began to engage with a wider dialectic, and in the process deviated from the comic book machinations of heroes and heroines. The lineage of this process can be traced through Lichtenstein’s ‘versions’ of masterpieces by Paul Cézanne, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, through the Brushstroke Paintings, the Stretcher Frame works (including the present work), and continuing through the related explorations of mirrors and architectonic entablatures, for example.\nIn Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars, the painting surface depicts the back of a stretched canvas, asserting the discrete tactile objecthood of a picture rather than its traditionally intended purpose to convey a visual message. Any possibility of engaging with the expected painted surface is patently denied by the fact that the ‘correct’ side is faced away from the viewer, barring any observance of the hand of an artist and thus reinforcing the detachment from any creative act. At first glance, then, this would appear to be a representational image at its most straightforward and literal. “These paintings are flat and frontal, deceptive and undeceptive simultaneously. The illusion depends on the identity of format and subject in the stretcher frames, but the unyielding contours and emphatic black and yellow dots draw attention to the objectness of the work itself.” (Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1983, pp. 63-64) However, the Stretcher Frame paintings are one of the few series in which Lichtenstein used light and shadow modeling to convey a three-dimensional object. He employs both black dots on white ground, and vice versa, in varying size combinations, to convey the physical depth of the painting support and challenge the viewer’s perception of spatial dimensions. In this sense, the series can be related to the tradition of trompe l’oeil, whereby an artist utilizes bravura technique to convey not only a faux three dimensionality, but in so doing asserts a mastery of the medium. Through this simple gesture, Lichtenstein proved himself an incredibly adroit observer and consumer of one of art history’s more nuanced elements, in the process aligning himself with those artists whose greatness included an arch knowingness about painting and its attendant possibilities. One thinks of works such as Rene Magritte’s ‘see-through’ easel mounted canvases, a visual device of tremendous mental acuity that Lichtenstein had surely absorbed.\nAs his work had indubitably proven, Lichtenstein was a voracious consumer of all kinds of imagery. Traditionally, a simplistic reading of his contribution focuses on his ability to incorporate the images of popular culture within the rarefied field of oil painting. However, this reading ignores the manifold subtleties of his practice and his acute understanding of the investigations of his peers and rivals. When one considers Stretcher Frame With Vertical Bars within the context of its time, it is therefore impossible to overlook the increasingly dominant Minimalist artists. Diane Waldman has interpreted the Stretcher Frame paintings as Lichtenstein’s parody of the obsession for the picture support by Minimalist and Color Field painters of the 1960s. However, Stretcher Frame With Vertical Bars does more to engage with these modes of abstraction than simply ape the painting-object itself. As one moves closer to the canvas surface, the figuration begins to break down and the constituent geometric arrangements of the composition begin to prevail. The yellow stretcher bars are arrayed in a symmetrical and tripartite grid. If it is a coincidence that this device mirrors almost exactly the classical notions of space as espoused by Palladio, this playful reference to the grid, the central tenet of the Minimalist creed, is surely inescapable. At a certain focal length the dots also themselves assume primacy over the shapes they are supposed to convey, their regimented order instead imparting an optical hum.\nThis deconstruction of the image in front of one's eyes and the apparent proximity between figuration and structured abstraction lies at the heart of all Lichtenstein’s monumentally influential corpus. The compositional structure of his paintings can thus be seen to confront notions of abstraction and representation as begun in the challenge laid down to painting by artists like Jasper Johns. In his Target With Four Faces of 1955 Johns first introduced the seminal pictorial device at the heart of his own investigations – the target – an image that is, for all practical purposes, utterly interchangeable with the real thing. Lichtenstein, with his depiction of a painting-object (but not the front surface image) also focuses attention on the theme of viewing an object that exists for the sole purpose of being looked at, and like the Johnsian target, is simultaneously representational and abstract. Bold in its conception and striking in the simplicity of its graphic punch, Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars is an exemplar of insouciant ‘cool’ that confronts the overt intellectualization of painting taking place during the time of its making. A didactic essay of disarming confidence and rapier wit about the very identity and continued relevance of the art object, the work perfectly embodies Lichtenstein’s unerring ability to process and distill the ever-proliferating pictorial panorama of contemporary culture in 1960s America.\nSigned and dated 68 on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil and magna on canvas

creator

Roy Lichtenstein

condition

This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a dark stained wood frame with metal insert and small float. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

36 x 68 in. 91.4 x 172.7 cm.

exhibition

Los Angeles, Irving Blum Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, April - May 1968 Pasadena, The Pasadena Art Museum, The Fellows - A Selection, March - April 1969

literature

Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, London, 1971, pl. 164, p. 247, illustrated in color

provenance

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #495) Irving Blum Gallery, Los Angeles Elizabeth Louise and Alison Virginia Terbell, Los Angeles Private Collection, West Coast (acquired from the above) Christie's, New York, May 14, 2003, Lot 14 Private Collection, New York Sotheby's, New York, May 12, 2004, Lot 43 Private Collection Mnuchin Gallery, New York Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Signed and dated 68 on the reverse

creator_nationality_dates

1923 - 1997


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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