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Mirror #5

Mirror #5
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '70' (on the reverse)
oil and Magna on canvas
diameter: 24 in. (61 cm.)
Painted in 1970.
Mitchell Lichtenstein, New York, 1970, gift of the artist
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1996
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2000
G. Bader, Hall of Mirrors: Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s, Cambridge, 2010, p. 170-171 (illustrated).
Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Paris, Centre Pompidou, 2013, pp. 105-106 (illustrated).
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Mirrors, March-April 1971.
Stony Brook, Fine Arts Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Mirrors and Entablatures, October-December 1979.
New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: The Mirror Paintings, October-November 1989, n.p. (illustrated).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, I Love Yellow, June-September 1996, p. 42, no. 46 (illustrated).
Zürich, Art Focus, Roy Lichtenstein, March-May 1997, p. 24 (illustrated).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Roy Lichtenstein, May-September 1998.
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, From Color to Light, April-July 2000, p. 94, 165, cat. no. 51 (illustrated).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

An extraordinary example of Roy Lichtenstein’s unique Mirror series, Mirror #5 distills and pushes the boundaries of the Pop Art icon’s canonical work. While Lichtenstein is perhaps best known for his paintings drawn from comic strips and using boisterous text, Mirror #5 is exemplary of a contemplative style and subject matter that question what vision itself means. Executed between 1969 and 1972, the Mirror paintings utilize Lichtenstein’s signature use of Ben-Day dots, but often in ways that are intriguingly opaque, abstract, and open-ended. Mirror #5 is a standout in this regard, as it pushes the Ben-Day dots all the way to the canvas’s edge, leaving us with a yellow, nearly solid expanse like the sun or a burning star. It follows that this particular canvas has been exhibited in renowned group shows and included in seminal exhibition catalogues at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. One of Lichtenstein’s most innovative and mysterious paintings, Mirror #5 is a wordless, intimate, and abstract gem in a vast and influential oeuvre of more than forty years.

In a review of Roy Lichtenstein: Mirror Paintings in 1989, where Mirror #5 was exhibited, critic Catherine Liu writes: “These mirrors do not offer easy narcissistic gratification, allegorical meanings, or narrative logic…Lichtenstein as an artist refuses to comment on this emptiness; like Warhol, he absorbs it and reproduces it with a kind of vacant intensity whose beauty has not faded in the twenty years or so since these images were first produced” (C. Liu, “Roy Lichtenstein at Mary Boone Gallery,” Artforum, January 1990). With Mirror #5, it is clear that Lichtenstein was interested in beauty in addition to critical questions of consumerism, gender, and representation. The canvas’s luxurious center has the otherworldly hues of a yellow diamond, framed coyly by Lichtenstein’s trademark dots. Mirror #5 therefore combines the sublime and the playful. The yellow pushes the Ben-Day dots to the canvas’s limits, allowing us room to find ourselves within it. The artist has absented himself to the margins, generously allowing the viewer to occupy the space of the mirror instead. We might long to find ourselves in the canvas’s curves that reject the rigidity of the square. Lichtenstein only suggests reflections, and with the subtlest gestures, he opens a portal reminiscent of transporting fairy tales like Through the Looking-Glass (1871) or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950).

Lichtenstein rose to prominence in the 1960s alongside Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Jasper Johns, who pioneered Pop Art and changed the way we think about pop culture and painting forever. For Lichtenstein, the supposedly low and unserious medium of the comic strip became a sustained source of serious artistic inspiration. In the tradition of Dada, which likewise explored how print media could interrogate mass culture, Lichtenstein used cropping, appropriation, text, and humor to upend what we think of as worthy artistic media. We can also see in Mirror #5 an earlier tradition, that of mirrors and reflections in Renaissance and Baroque art. Representative is Caravaggio’s Narcissus (1597-1599), which depicts the legend of a handsome young man who falls in love with his own reflection and ultimately dies at his own hand. Narcissus, as with Lichtenstein’s work, suggests that art is not so much a means of looking outward at the world, but rather inward at ourselves and the images we consume.

The Mirror series originated in Lichtenstein’s walks past the windows of glass stores on the Bowery in New York City’s Lower East Side. Inspired by the streets and shops of the city instead of comic strips, the Mirror series is an abstract record of Lichtenstein’s movement throughout New York. He was enthralled by the shops’ brochures, which, according to the artist, depicted mirrors as “air-brushed mirror symbols, reflecting nothing” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in C. Lanchner, ex. cat., Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 2009, p. 26). Indeed, Mirror #5 is not a mirror in the strictest sense, because it does not reflect us, but instead the viewer melds with the canvas and pigment.

Mirror #5 is the turning point of a visual language that long interested Lichtenstein. He self-referentially incorporated mirrors and other reflective surfaces into his canonical work, most notably Girl in Mirror (1964). For the artist, the mirror is a space of reality and fantasy, since in a comic or in painting, there is no way to actually render a mirror. Instead, it can only be signified and suggested by appealing to an collective visual lexicon and precise visual tricks. According to the artist, “There’s no simple way to draw a mirror, so cartoonists invented dashed or diagonal lines to signify ‘mirror.’ Now, you see those lines and you know it means ‘mirror,’ even though there are obviously no such lines in reality. If you put horizontal, instead of diagonal, lines across the same object, it wouldn’t say mirror. It’s a convention that we unconsciously accept” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in M. Kimmelman, PORTAITS: Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, reproduced at Awash in artifice and imagination, Mirror #5 becomes an allegory of vision itself that brings to the fore the unspoken visual codes that craft our culture, allowing us to reshape them.

Therefore, Mirror #5 is a paradigmatic canvas within Lichtenstein’s diverse interests and the best example of his more fanciful and secretive work. With an almost mystical ethos, the canvas is a rare chance to discuss the less overt aspects of Lichtenstein’s imagery. Above all, it is a simultaneously critical and sincere invitation to look at ourselves, which has always been the subject of the artist’s sustained practice as a Pop Art pioneer. Without the explosive words and images we often associate with Lichtenstein’s paintings, Mirror #5 is a lovely moment of reflection in a world filled to the brim with visual stimuli. We can stop and gaze into its depths and know that others are gazing too, united as we are in a human desire to see and be seen.

On behalf of the Agnes Gund Foundation, proceeds from the sale of the present example will benefit the Groundswell Fund and Reproductive Rights. The Groundswell Catalyst Fund - a grassroots organization led by women of color, low-income women, transgender, and gender-expansive people - distributes funding in the form of grants to organizations whose mission is to achieve reproductive justice through community organizing, legislative reform, and social activism. To date, the fund has supported over 300 organizations across 49 states and territories, helping to bring in thousands of individual investors to support intersectional organizing and reproductive justice.

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