Roy Lichtenstein Foundation gives works to Whitney Museum

NEW YORK •At a time when some single-artist foundations are exploring new ways to stay relevant by hosting artist residencies or giving prizes, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation is making a dramatic impact by beginning the process of winding itself down.

And it is doing so with a bang - or as Lichtenstein might have rendered it in Ben-Day dots, with a Pow!

The foundation is announcing this week that it is giving around 400 artworks in all media by the Pop Art master - about half its holdings - to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The museum's director, Mr Adam D. Weinberg, said that the donation, one of the biggest single-artist gifts the Whitney had ever received, would become "one of the historical markers of the institution" and comparable with its renowned, if larger, Edward Hopper collection.

The foundation will also give historical material comprising approximately half a million documents to the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.

The director of the archives, Ms Kate Haw, said she believed it was the largest single-artist trove the institution had ever received.

For the New York City-based foundation, which is dedicated to promoting the legacy of Lichtenstein, and contemporary art in general, the gifts mark the beginning of the end.

Mr Jack Cowart, 73, the foundation's executive director, said: "We decided we wanted to get out of the art-holding business."

Ms Dorothy Lichtenstein, 78, the foundation's president and chief benefactor, said: "I like the idea handing it off and seeing what the future brings."

She was married to the artist from 1968 until his death in 1997.

"Every 10 years, I say, 'How about winding it up in the next 10 years?'" she added. "I don't want to leave things up in the air."

Smaller gifts will be going to other institutions.

"We know we're opening the floodgates" of requests from museums and others by making such an announcement, Mr Cowart said.

The new Whitney material, which will establish a Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection at the museum, includes five paintings, 17 sculptures and 145 prints.

The museum already had 26 works by the artist.

Mr Weinberg said the Whitney got to pick from the foundation's holdings, a sort of museum version of the old game show Supermarket Sweep.

"They left it wide open," he said.

The trick, Mr Weinberg added, was not being "piggy" and coming up with a selection that complemented what the Whitney already had - a line-up strong in 1960s Lichtenstein work, but weaker in other periods. And it had to justify each pick.

Whitney staff chose from Lichtenstein's most recognisable and valuable period, including the 1964 sculpture Head of Girl. But they also took early works not in the artist's signature style, like Pilot (1948) and Untitled (circa 1959-60), to show his range and early experiments with other styles.

Also, this autumn, the museum will start to programme classes in Lichtenstein's studio, which is four blocks away. The proximity of the museum, as well as the friendliness of the leadership teams, made the large gift easier, Mr Cowart said.

"We were extraordinarily influenced by the simpatico nature of this great museum next door," he said.

In a process that will take five to seven years, a joint team from the Archives of American Art and the foundation will digitise all the archival contents. Access to the material will be free on the archive's website.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2018, with the headline 'Roy Lichtenstein Foundation gives works to Whitney Museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe