Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
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Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup 

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup 
incised with the artist's signature, number and date 'rf Lichtenstein '95 AP 2/2' (lower left)
paint and pigmented wax on machined aluminum
71 x 84 x 1 ½ in. (180.3 x 213.3 x 3.8 cm.)
Executed in 1995. This work is the second artist's proof from an edition of six plus two artist's proofs.
Michael Berger Gallery, Pittsburgh
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2001
M. Kushner, Donald Saff: Art in Collaboration, Munich, 2010, pp. 13, 142-147 (another example illustrated on the cover).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: New Sculpture, September-October 1995 (another example exhibited).
Salzburg, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, The Muse? Transforming the Image of Woman in Contemporary Art, 1995, p. 97, no. 48 (another
example exhibited and illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture and Drawings, June-September 1999, pp. 24 and 187 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture, September-October 2005, p. 105 (another example exhibited and 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.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

A two-and-a-half-dimensional tour-de-force from Roy Lichtenstein’s innovative final decade, Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (1995) fuses the artist’s keen understanding of architectural perspective with his characteristic formal qualities to simultaneously create and reject the existence of an alternative world in which Pop sensibilities reign. An unidentified woman peers into an uninhabited room, finding only an empty chair, potted plant, framed Picasso and lonely yellow cup. Does she belong here, or is she an uninvited visitor? Such composition begs the same question of the viewer, who has no choice but to spy over the woman’s shoulder, thrust into a benign yet voyeuristic role. The artist’s iconic painted Benday dots pepper the woman’s cheek, spilling into the space in a way that challenges her presumed existence as a bystander and instead cements her into the tableau. Furthering the inclination that the contemplating woman may in fact be as much an object of contemplation as the cup itself is the compilation of brushstrokes comprising her ponytail, secured by a cartoonish bow at the extreme edge of the composition.

Having coaxed his expressive line out of cut aluminum with the technical help of Donald Saff and subsequently layered with pigmented wax and paint, Lichtenstein defined this imaginative space by precisely what he elided – a surprising study in figure-ground relationship, the present work makes room (and a room) out of negative space: “It is as if Lichtenstein pursued his pictorial play with flatness and illusion, abstraction and figuration, into the realm of sculpture, in part to explore the effects of mechanical reproduction there as well. (For example, the mock Benday dots, his signature device to evoke the media processing of the modern world, often recur in his subjects, which are also multiples.) These effects, Lichtenstein suggests, have transformed not only the definition of artistic mediums like painting and sculpture but also the appearance of everyday things like glasses, bowls, pitchers, lights…” (H. Foster, “Pop Pygmalion”, in G. Bader, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, Cambridge, 2009, p. 147). Here, the sole cup is transformed as the unassuming focal point of an unexpected guest, taking on new meaning in light of its assigned importance. In the same way the vessel rests awaiting fulfillment, so too does Lichtenstein’s interior – though vacancy pervades in form and context, hope arrives both with the crafted woman and the real viewer, without whom the artist’s cleverly composed spatial properties would languish unwitnessed.

The structure, simplicity and close-up framing of Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup harkens back to the format of Lichtenstein's early Girl paintings of the 1960s. After a lengthy period away from his comic-book inspired motifs, Lichtenstein returned to his career-propelling source, elevating images from popular culture to high art. The slightly dated comic books published for the burgeoning post-war teenage market told the typical story of a young girl falling in love. These subjects fulfilled Lichtenstein's fascination with strong visual and cultural clichés, as well as his preoccupation with form and style. In the present work, Lichtenstein borrowed the profile of the woman from one such comic, while removing the telling speech bubbles and placing her instead in a modernized interior. Through these subtle manipulations, the seemingly familiar narrative is upset with dramatic effect, and the situation at hand becomes less obvious and therefore more mysterious: “I don't think the importance of the art has anything to do with the importance of the subject matter. I think importance resides more in the unity of the composition and in the inventiveness of perception” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in Roy Lichtenstein: Beginning to End, exh. cat., Madrid, Fundacion Juan March, 2007, p. 128). In experimenting with wall relief, Lichtenstein further invented his own brand of perception, lifting his traditional ironies out of the picture plane to introduce additional paradox. By marrying flat symbols of perspective with real-life dimension, Lichtenstein cast his practice anew as an oeuvre-spanning exploration of space, rather than commodity.

In revisiting his iconic early motifs of the woman, the art historical parody and the empty interior, Lichtenstein forges forward in a new medium, continuing to reinterpret his favorite themes all the way until the end of his practice. Testifying to the present work’s relevance to the artist’s wider body of work, one example from the same edition is held in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup thus represents Lichtenstein's pioneering spirit and undeniable talent in capturing the rich, infinitesimally nuanced amounts of visual detail absorbed during the course of daily life and reducing them to a beautifully simple series of lines and dots accentuated by bold splashes of blue, yellow and red. The dynamic tension between the hard-edged, graphic design elements and the cunningly distorted perspective results in a stunning, optically charged representation of the artist’s singular artistic vision.

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