Europeans often have unique (or, at least, different) views on American art, and that's why I am always interested to read reviews of shows on American artists in Europe and to see how they fared. So I was interested in a review (Comic stripped, January 6) by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian of Roy Lichtenstein—All about Art, a major retrospective at the Museum for Moderne Kunst in Louisiana, Denmark, until January 18. (The show will then relocate to the Hayward Gallery, in London, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid, but it will not come to the United States.) According to the museum's Web site, the show features "more than 50 paintings from the period 1961 to 1997, as well as more than 25 drawings and other documentary material." This is the first show devoted solely to the artist in Scandinavia.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jones uses Lichtenstein (since his death in 1997, his works are controlled by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation) as a sort of stand-in punching bag for his anti-Americanism. You can read the article for yourself, but here are a few excerpts that are particularly ugly and ill founded. According to him, Lichtenstein
has dated as badly as John F Kennedy. There are worse things than being a minor artist. Perhaps this exhibition is clumsily chosen, but it makes him seem an infinitely slighter figure than his fame implies. Some artists are better in small doses, and Lichtenstein's later work can be tantalising when you see one big atmospheric painting such as the sumptuous bedroom interior owned by Tate Modern. Yet there are some works here that make you seriously wonder if Lichtenstein deserves to be remembered even as a second-rank American painter. [. . .]Yes, you read that correctly: Lichtenstein's work does not treat its source of inspiration, comic books, with mockery or irony. (As shown above, Ohhh...Alright..., from 1964, is dripping with sincerity.) And, if the media attention to the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination showed anything, it showed that JFK's image is anything but dated: in spite of all the tawdry information that is now known about his private life, he still represents something eternal in the minds of many people. That Mr. Jones proceeds to compare Lichtenstein's work with Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, both disparagingly, is equally mysterious. These works that are anti-establishment (and anti-American in some sense) par excellence are now treated as examples of American self-conscious materialism? Ohhh...alright...
This kind of art—a painting of the back of a painting, a cast of a beer can—has always fascinated Americans. At once naive and sophisticated, it speaks to a culture both materialist and self-conscious. [. . .]
The comic release of Lichtenstein's early 1960s comic-book paintings lies in their honest acknowledgement that he, a grown man, finds meaning in the junk he is supposed to have outgrown. It's absolutely not the case that these paintings mock, ironise or otherwise patronise their raw material. They squeeze out the crass energy of adolescent fantasy as if it were an overripe pimple, and have a lot in common with the new American novel of the 1960s.