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Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
WORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF ILEANA SONNABEND AND THE ESTATE OF NINA CASTELLI SUNDELL
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow)

Details
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow)
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '66' (on the reverse of the yellow element)
porcelain enamel on steel
36 3/4 x 26 1/4 x 25 in. (93.3 x 66.6 x 63.5 cm.)
Executed in 1966. This work is a unique variant from a series of six.
Provenance
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, New York
By descent to the present owner
Literature
A. Boatto, et. al., Lichtenstein, International Edition, Rome, 1966, p. 107 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Princeton University Art Museum; Austin, University of Texas, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Selections from the Ileana and Michael Sonnabend Collection: Works from the 1950s and 1960s, February 1985-March 1986, p. 64, no. 33 (illustrated).
Venice, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Roy Lichtenstein Sculptor, May-November 2013, pp. 74 and 279, no. 31 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

In Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow), Roy Lichtenstein “blows up” one of his most recognizable Pop motifs, intensifying his flattened explosion iconography in size and color before hurling it into three-dimensional space. The freestanding sculpture is based on an isolated fragment of pulp imagery, a pictographic blast sourced from a popular DC War Comic about the Second World War. The high-impact work constitutes a distillation of the appropriated image into what Lichtenstein referred to as a “crystallized symbol,” a succinct representation of not only an explosion but the pop cultural portrayal of an explosion. In a flash-frozen flurry of enamel and steel, Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow) captures a cultural moment particular to the 1960s, during which the Vietnam War was at the forefront of America’s popular consciousness and the proliferation of “’virtual’ means of communication such as TV and publicity [made] what was concrete and real…increasingly less important” (G. Celant, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculptor, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venezia, 2013, p. 19). The ease with which stylized icons like the caricatural explosion could be reproduced across popular print media like comics, newspapers, and billboards and summarily consumed by mass culture rendered them culturally dominant, a slick American semiotics for Lichtenstein to use as artistic material. Treating vision metaphorically, the high-octane Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow) leverages the vernacular of comic books to both ask cerebral questions about the manner in which vision is culturally coded and probe mainstream representations of the military-industrial complex in America.

The present work cannily plays with inverses as it embeds the representational volumetric devices of two-dimensional mass media in a sculptural form and renders representations of potentially devastating violence in sleek shapes and fun, vibrant colors. The potent piece packs an emphatic Pop punch. Colors have been streamlined to a keyed-up, primary palette. Surfaces have been made industrially slick, gleaming with porcelain enamel. As artist Ian Wallace has explained in his writings on the Pop titan, for Roy Lichtenstein “enamel offered the opportunity to depict ephemeral subject matter in a manner that was ‘completely concrete’”: a pleasurable paradox (I. Wallace, “Something to Do: Manufacturing Roy Lichtenstein’s Sculptures,” G. Celant, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculptor, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venezia, 2013, p.33). In the ironic fashion characteristic of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre, the work’s denticulate contours freeze the ephemeral moment of the explosion into a sculpture that is resolutely immobile, concrete, and abstract: a “formal reconciliation of lowly contents and high forms” (H. Foster, “Pop Pygmalion,” Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2005, p. 10).

The ingenious device of Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow)’s perforated metallic screen at once evokes the cloud of smoke or blinding light that might accompany an explosion as it implies Ben-Day dots, the halftone dots used to modulate tone in printing which Lichtenstein appropriated, enlarged, and took as his aesthetic signature (interestingly, the Ben-Day dots were barely visible in the originary comic on which the present sculpture is based). The metallic screen joins the variously colored “layers” of the explosion to imply depth. In Lichtenstein’s sculptures as with his paintings, the artist “evoke[d] volume pictorially far more than he shape[d] it sculpturally” (H. Foster, “Pop Pygmalion,” Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2005, p. 9); very little about the present work is “in the round,” as most of its depth is wittily pictorially signified. With a gorgeously precise, graphic style, Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow) takes the energy, impact, and aggression of so much commercial art and heightens those elements to the point of a hysterical, bellicose flammability.

The present work is among the artist’s early Pop sculptures. Prior to the 1960s, Lichtenstein had produced small-scale wood and terracotta works inspired by African and South American styles; he then began to sculpt in the Pop style for which he became known, creating glazed busts and figurative works invoking imagery from his paintings. The explosion is among Lichtenstein’s best-known motifs. The artist first employed the explosion image in acrylic in his notable 1962 works Blam and Live Ammo (Blang!). In 1965 and 1966 he explored a three-dimensional rendering of the image with the Explosion series, a small collection of sculptural explosions in colorful enameled steel. In the sculptural process, Lichtenstein enlarged the combustion and rendered it in acrylic. In upstate New York, Lichtenstein cut, assembled, and enameled sheets of metal in accordance with the design. In a Pop fashion, this somewhat industrial process blurred lines between high and low. Playfully ricocheting between mass media illustration and museum-ready sculpture, battle monument and comic strip, and sculpture and painting, Standing Explosion #2 (Yellow) engages with key themes of Roy Lichtenstein’s oeuvre with explosive energy and a knowing wink.

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