Works from the Cy Twombly Foundation
Post Lot Text
This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Roy Lichtenstein’s audacious 10¢ is an early work that evokes the price-conscious commercialization that swept through America during the postwar period. Boldly rendering the 10¢ motif in black and white so that it expands to fill the entire composition, Lichtenstein foregrounds the image so much that it almost becomes abstract. With his combination of strong verticals and soft curves, together with the contrasting black and white tones, Lichtenstein focuses on the conceptual and formal qualities of his chosen subject matter, rather than the sociological implications thus making this work an important precursor to his iconic Girl paintings with which he would come to reassess the rules of visual communication.
Lichtenstein’s choice of subject is layered with a mixture of sociological and art-historical resonance. Taking inspiration from the price tags at any five and dime store, signs like this would have been commonplace for members of the emerging consumer generation. Interestingly, 10¢ was the average price for a comic during the postwar decades, making this choice especially personal to Lichtenstein himself. In addition, by choosing numbers, the artist may have been referencing the work of Jasper Johns whose drawings of numerals had been completed during the previous decade. Although different in style, Johns’ numerals were important to Lichtenstein’s development as an artist as they too reinterpreted preexisting forms, just as Lichtenstein did with his choice of subject matter. However, whereas Johns countered the impersonality of the established form with his pencil, Lichtenstein wanted to keep this impersonality by appropriating the effects of mass-production printing.
Included in the Morgan Library & Museum’s seminal exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein’s black and white works in 2010, 10¢ forms an important part of an often overlooked series the artist completed early in his career. Considered significant works in their own right, these drawings represent the beginnings of his dissection of our methods of visual communication and the signs and signifiers that make up this process of understanding. The black and white tonality of the work also relates back to Lichtenstein’s art school training at Ohio State University. Here he came under the tutelage of Hoyt Sherman who focused on what he termed “organized perception.” “Sherman developed something called the flash room,” Lichtenstein recalled, “a darkened room where images would be flashed on a screen for very brief intervals—about a tenth of a second. Something very simple to start, maybe just a few marks. And you would have a pile of paper, and you’d try and draw it. You’d get a very strong afterimage, a total impression, and then you’d have to draw it in the dark…It was a mixture of science and aesthetics, and it became the center of what I was interested in…[Sherman] taught that the key to everything lay in what he called perceptual unity” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted by I. Dervaux, “Baked Potatoes, Hot Dogs, and Girls’ Romances: Roy Lichtenstein’s Master Drawings,” in I. Dervaux (ed.), Roy Lichtenstein: The Black and White Drawings 1961-1968, exh. cat., Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2010, p. 17). The sense of spatial organization that Lichtenstein acquired in Sherman’s class became integral to his Pop drawings. As can be seen in 10¢, the subtle shift in composition between the original and Lichtenstein’s more refined version accounts, in part, for the elegance of these black and white works.
The Morgan Library retrospective revealed anew the quality and significance of these early works. The New York Times art critic Roberta Smith underscores the importance with which these works are now viewed: “The artist’s hand is everywhere, adjusting the density of the dots from faint to dark (sometimes by doubling them up), filling in areas so that even finer lines have a slightly chiseled, insistent roughness, and making useful discoveries...What is perhaps most striking is his determination to have the entire sheet of paper come alive and register as a whole. This electricity unifies nearly all his paintings, edge to edge, with a bracing combination of the familiar and the abstract that still has few equals in modern art” (R. Smith, “Following The Dots Around the City,” New York Times, September 24, 2010, p. C33).
Bernice Rose, the curator of the first retrospective of Lichtenstein’s drawings, organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 1987, also summed up the significance of these early works: “Drawing is both the core of his aesthetic and an essential part of the making of his art. It is the point of departure for a new order of painting” (B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 15). With its stylized subject matter and bold aesthetic, 10¢ is a consummate example of this important body of work, and an example of this important juncture in the history of postwar art.