The Whitney Museum of American Art announced on Wednesday that it has received a remarkable promised gift of over 400 works by Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997). The Museum and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation have forged an agreement that will bring the two organizations into a close and ongoing partnership and will make the Whitney a locus for Lichtenstein scholarship with the creation of the Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection. Through this gift, and an expanded relationship with the Foundation, the Whitney will hold the world’s largest study collection of Lichtenstein’s work, opening up exceptional possibilities for the Museum in terms of exhibition, scholarship, and conservation.
Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director, said, “We are delighted to join with the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in this groundbreaking collaboration. The creation of the Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection, thanks to the great generosity of Dorothy Lichtenstein and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, will give future generations the opportunity to see and study the full range of Roy’s work, spanning nearly sixty years. The Whitney’s connection to Roy’s work dates back to 1965, and we have presented his art in dozens of exhibitions. We are thrilled that this gift will enable the Whitney to deepen the knowledge and appreciation of the art of this singularly inventive and incomparable American artist, one of the seminal figures in the history of American art. I want to express our profound gratitude to Dorothy, and to Executive Director Jack Cowart and Chairman of the Board Ruth Fine, as well as the entire Board of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, for this immensely significant gift and a new model of institutional collaboration.”
Jack Cowart, Executive Director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, commented, “We are extremely pleased to be working with the Whitney and are grateful to Adam and the Museum’s talented staff. The Lichtenstein Foundation initiated this partnership, which entails the transfer of substantial bodies of artwork to the Whitney. We were looking for a hub so that the range of Roy’s subjects, working methods, and materials could be held in a central place and be available to the public, scholars, and artists. The Whitney was an ideal choice, and we look forward to growing the collection in the years to come. Furthermore, our hope is that the Lichtenstein studio, just a few blocks from the Museum, will eventually go to the Whitney, enabling the Museum to enrich connections to living artists as well as those of Roy’s generation. We look forward to collaborating on extensive programming there, a project that is already underway.”
ROY LICHTENSTEIN STUDY COLLECTION
The agreement between the Foundation and the Whitney establishes The Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection, initiated with a promised gift from the Foundation of over 400 examples of Lichtenstein’s work in all media and from all periods of his working career, from the early 1940s to the artist’s death in 1997. The collection comprises paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings, tracings, collages, and maquettes by the artist as well as studio materials selected to represent Lichtenstein’s artistic practice and process. The Foundation’s planned gifts to other institutions, in addition to the Whitney, will encourage collaborations between the Museum and a host of other institutions throughout the country and internationally.
In January 2018, at the behest of the Lichtenstein Foundation, the Whitney Museum of American Art convened a working group to focus on the work of Roy Lichtenstein. The team included staff from the Museum’s curatorial, conservation, and research departments, and was led by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection. Breslin noted, “This spectacular gift from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation radically augments our collection of Lichtenstein’s work. Along with deep holdings of—and engagement with—artists such as Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, and Glenn Ligon, we will now have an incredible representation of Lichtenstein’s work from every period of his career. Lichtenstein’s art is deeply wise, materially inventive, art historically aware, endlessly humorous, culturally engaged, and alive to the complexities of the American experience. We made our choices with the goal of keeping related works together across different media, conscious that certain works might be better served by other contexts, and with the desire to demonstrate how Lichtenstein’s practice unfolded over the decades of his remarkable career.”
The works that will comprise the Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection reflect a number of themes to which Lichtenstein returned to repeatedly. These themes include: Abstractions, the American Indian, Americana, Architecture, Brushstrokes, Landscapes and Seascapes, Mirrors and Reflections, “Modern Art,” Murals, “Perfects” and “Imperfects,” Pop, Still Lifes and Interiors, and Women and Nudes. Using diverse materials, Lichtenstein consistently explored various permutations of these themes. The Study Collection traces the development of Lichtenstein’s process, from source material to sketch, drawing, collage, painting, print, and sculpture.
Among the promised art gifts to the Whitney are: Untitled, an oil on canvas from c. 1959–60; Man with Chest Expander, a drawing from c. 1961; Bell, a 1963 oil on canvas; Sea Shore, 1964, painted in oil and Magna on the back of multiple, layered sheets of Plexiglas; Head of Girl, a 1964 painted ceramic sculpture; the print Sweet Dreams Baby!,1965; Artist’s Studio “Look Mickey” (Study), a 1973 drawing; the 1977 painted wood sculpture, Lamp; The Conversation (Study), a c. 1984 collage; Painting, Green Brushstrokes, 1984; the monumental sculpture Coups de Pinceau, 1988/2011; the 1988 Imperfect Painting; Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight (Model), a 1996 wood sculpture; Bellagio Hotel Mural: Still Life with Reclining Nude (Study), a 1997 collage; and, among numerous other prints, complete sets from the 1973 Bull Profile and Bull Head series, the 1974 Six Still Lifes series, the 1980 American Indian Theme series, the 1986–88 “Imperfect” series, the 1990–91 Interior series, and the 1992 La Nouvelle Chute de L’Amerique (The New Fall of America) suite.
The Whitney and Roy Lichtenstein have a distinguished history. The Museum first exhibited Lichtenstein’s work in Decade of American Drawing 1955–1965 (1965) and later that year the artist presented Red and White Brushstrokes (1965) in the Whitney’s Annual of Contemporary Painting. His work was subsequently exhibited in seven Annuals and Biennials as well as in fifty-nine thematic, group, and one-person exhibitions, and collection installations, including: American Pop Art (1974); Roy Lichtenstein, 1970–1980 (1981); BLAM! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism and Performance, 1958–1964 (1984); Image World: Art and Media Culture (1989); Hand Painted Pop: American Art in Transition (1993); Picasso and American Art (2006); Three Landscapes: A Film Installation by Roy Lichtenstein (2011); Sinister Pop (2012); and in the Museum’s inaugural exhibition downtown, America Is Hard to See (2015). Currently, Lichtenstein’s work is included in the exhibition Where We Are, on view at the Whitney through the end of the year.
In 1966, the Museum acquired its first Lichtenstein painting, Little Big Painting (1965), and its first sculpture in 1969, Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope (1968). Today the Whitney owns twenty-six Lichtenstein works, including paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and the film installation Three Landscapes (1970–71), which was donated to the Museum by Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2013.
It is expected that the Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection will be processed and catalogued over the course of the next year and will be available to scholars by appointment thereafter.