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 This is Lichtenstein's first major exhibition since his 1997 death. Above: his 1962 work 'The Ring (Engagement).'
Manuel Balce Ceneta/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 1/3/2013



Any way you look at it, the "Roy Lichtenstein: Retrospective: at the National Gallery of Art is a super-sized show. A dozen galleries that spill over into the side halls are filled with 160 paintings, sculptures and drawings. The exhibit covers--chronologically and thematically--the high points in the artist's career from the early 1960s until shortly before his death in the mid-1990s.

The key is not in the grand scale of the exhibit, but in one of its most basic components. The simple dot is the link that unifies these works. Small--like the atom--it is potentially explosive in the right hands, as the Lichtenstein "dot" was for 20th-century art.

It's almost a cliche. The dots connect the show starting with an early Pop period that features subject matter pulled from advertisements and catalogs (oversized sneakers, a hot dog) and everyday objects (a very large black-and-white composition book).

Lichtenstein is best-known for his gigantic comic book spin-offs. In the "romance" gallery, a distressed heroine rendered in Ben-Day dots cries out, "I don't care! I'd rather sink--than call Brad for help!" The instant reaction is laughter, not a sound often heard in art galleries.

Pared down to the minimal necessities, his landscapes are composed of only dots. He used Rowlux molded plastic sheets to create colorful abstract works with dots like "Pink Seascape." His modern sculptures, a parody of Art Deco motifs, are created with a brass dot at the core.

Lichtenstein applied his comic style to a series of great masters, most notably Picasso. A Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and a Piet Mondrain abstract are also recreated with dots. His nudes lack real flesh, being total inventions based not on live models but on his archive of comic book clippings.

The show's variety is impressive, and includes pieces from his his brief excursion into abstract expressionism along with complete abstractions like the Perfect/Imperfect works.

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What: 'Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective' When: Through Jan. 13. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Where: The National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue NW, Washington Cost: Free Info: 202/737-4215; nga.gov