Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Entablature’, Sotheby's

From the Catalogue
"The Entablatures are part of his exploration of American culture's complex relationship to its European ancestry...Lichtenstein tackles such momentous subjects with modesty, wit, and irony, as well as ambition, using the format that he derived from the comic strip as the armature on which he built his response."
Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1993, p. 202

Applying a succinct methodology elevating Minimalism through its reduction of recognizable elements of Neo-Classical architecture, Roy Lichtenstein’s Entablature is part of a unique series of paintings that flouts tradition by underlining planarity via color and form. Having risen to prominence in the early 1960s with widely celebrated and recognizable Pop art subjects, Lichtenstein made the surprising move toward painting neutral subjects and objects that are intrinsically abstract. This newfound aesthetic was masterfully executed not only in his Entablatures series, but also in the Mirrors and Brushstrokes paintings. Demonstratively illusionistic, entablatures are an architectural element resembling a band or molding lying horizontally above the columns of a building. Originating in the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, the morphology of a column capital as espoused by the five orders: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite, became an abundantly represented motif in America in the early 20th century Beaux-Arts and Greco-Roman revival used for public buildings such as museums and libraries. In his complex campaign of appropriation, Lichtenstein produced two sequences of Entablatures, the original group from 1971-1972 were executed exclusively in black and white, while the mature series culminated in 1974-1976, with richer additions to color and texture. Executed in 1974, the present work is a stylistic mélange; crisp horizontal lines of black, green and red zip from edge to edge of the canvas, punctuated by a frieze of Ben-Day dots and dazzling azure Greek fret weave. By exquisitely accentuating the schematic elements of Entablature, the present work effectively communicates the mechanically formed cast, density and durability of an ancient engineering marvel.

Although Lichtenstein looked to ancient Greek and Roman examples, the visual source most influential to Entablature was a photoshoot of the building façades in Manhattan. Shooting building fragments in the Wall Street area and in Lower Manhattan, close to his studio at the time, Lichtenstein tapped into the geographical jugular of the city. By capturing building fragments at a time of day when light and shadow were in high contrast, the ornamental features were successfully thrown in sharp relief. In this way of extrapolating architectural morsels, Lichtenstein ascertained the minimum information required to convey the architrave, cornice and frieze, the three components of classical architecture, across his canvas. In his early Entablatures, the canvases are heavily referent to their photographic source, yet become more experimental at the point of the present work’s creation in 1974, whereby the artist’s freer hand and concentration on the lateral expanse of the wall transforms its source and evokes an effortless congruence between the fuller, metallic colors that create a greater sense of mass. In Lichtenstein’s extraordinary Kyoto lecture given a few months before his death, he touched on the legacy of the Entablature series, as it “can also be seen to represent, in a humorous way, the establishment. By establishment, I mean that the reference in these Entablature paintings was to the Greco-Roman tradition, which permeates our art and culture” (the artist in Yve-Alain Bois, Roy Lichtenstein, Chicago 2012, p. 62). More precisely, “the Entablatures represent my response to Minimalism and the art of Donald Judd and Kenneth Noland. It’s my way of saying that the Greeks did repeated motifs very early on, and I am showing, in a humorous way, that Minimalism has a long history…It was essentially a way of making a Minimalist painting that has a classical reference” (ibid., p. 67).

In the words of the artist himself, Entablature is thus an elegant reprisal of the most influential architectural ornaments of the ancient and modern worlds in a splendidly congruent way, which masterfully creates the illusion of landscape. As the uncontested supremely minimal paintings in Lichtenstein’s corpus, the reductive form of this late Entablature conveys the illusion of a flat plane, with just a few details of one repeated pattern, connoting Greek revival architecture. The use of flat color, equally flat black lines, and identical Benday dot screens found in the present work, allowed Lichtenstein to explore the same aesthetic territory as the Minimalist and Color Field painters. The present work therefore conveys a certain neutrality, appearing to be a fragment of a building of no particular style or character, an image one recognizes as vaguely classical. In portraying a fragment of an edifice, Lichtenstein brilliantly conveys the painting as a picture of a picture, eliminating any subjective point of view. As comic strips and consumer objects had provided earlier inspiration to explore formal issues, Entablature makes a relatively banal subject the focal point of dialectic with Modern and Contemporary art and the history of culture.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated '74 on the reverse

Pully-Lausanne, FAE Musée d'Art Contemporain; Tate Liverpool, Roy Lichtenstein, September 1992 - April 1993, p. 76, illustrated in color

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 694)
Sonnabend Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974

About Roy Lichtenstein

When American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey in 1961, it set the tone for his career. This primary-color portrait of the cartoon mouse introduced Lichtenstein’s detached and deadpan style at a time when introspective Abstract Expressionism reigned. Mining material from advertisements, comics, and the everyday, Lichtenstein brought what was then a great taboo—commercial art—into the gallery. He stressed the artificiality of his images by painting them as though they’d come from a commercial press, with the flat, single-color Ben-Day dots of the newspaper meticulously rendered by hand using paint and stencils. Later in his career, Lichtenstein extended his source material to art history, including the work of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, and experimented with three-dimensional works. Lichtenstein’s use of appropriated imagery has influenced artists such as Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Raymond Pettibon.

American, 1923-1997, New York, New York, based in New York and Southampton, New York

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