As Roberta Smith recently described in the New York Times, “Autumn in New York is the perfect time for an accidental festival of the work of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.” Leo Castelli Gallery‘s contribution to this apparently serendipitous trilogy of current exhibitions is “Mostly Men;” an exploration of the artist’s representations of both males and maleness. Paintings, drawings, and sculpture spanning Lichtenstein’s entire working career are brought together in a show which both underscores and confronts the iconic status of women and girls in his body of work.
The exhibit also includes a number of pieces which have never before been shown in New York: Portrait of Alan Kaprow and Portrait of Ivan Karp, both painted in 1961, depict the artist and former Castelli associate, respectively. These stereotyped, serialized representations of mid-century masculinity are distinguishable only by their titles, perhaps in reference to (or even celebration of), the increasingly obscure boundaries between art, life, and professional identity both Karp and Kaprow helped to advocate in the early 1960’s. More immediately, the portraits comment upon the anonymity, homogeneity, and intensely-subjective qualities of the abstract expressionism contemporaneously en vogue.
The interchangeable quality of Lichtenstein’s Karp and Kaprow figures is not unique to his representations of men. Although women often fulfill similarly generic roles in his work, the culturally-clichéd hallmarks of their gender identity remain more clearly defined. At certain moments in Lichtenstein’s representational practice, men appear exclusively as geometric forms, and are identifiable as such only through the title of the object. Whether as abstract geometry or a piece of cheese, Lichtenstein comments upon the social expectations of a rectilinear definition of manhood.