No words could have been more true and yet more false — for Lichtenstein's work as well for the art of the other father figures of Pop: Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist. They were the progenitors of a cooled-out, impersonal style with a brightly colored, deadly fix on America's commercial culture. But impersonal did not mean anonymous. Each of them was an instant scandal and success. No art movement in this century, American or European, has so quickly risen to influence and turned its inventors into moneyed stars.
Defying some critics' predictions, Pop's influence has barely flagged since its inception in the early '60s. New artists continue to talk about the importance of Pop, museums continue to do Pop exhibitions, and collectors avidly follow the work. At last May's major auction at Christie's in New York, Lichtenstein's war image titled "Blang" from 1962 (the year of the artist's first show with legendary New York dealer Leo Castelli), sold for $2.8 million. In 1996 a classic Warhol of Campbell's soup cans was bought by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for $15 million.
Now that Lichtenstein is gone, it is likely that his prices, like Warhol's, will leap into the stratosphere. Focus on his work, as well as on continuing efforts by Oldenburg, Rosenquist and such other Pop figures as Tom Wesselmann and Jim Dine, is bound to increase. As one art expert close to Lichtenstein says, "the fact that Christie's has reorganized their sales to include all work from 1900 to 1970 as one auction reflects a changed historic view of the Pop market. The prices of Pop Art are going to reflect that change."
It also means that the Pop movement will begin to be seen by museums and publishers in a new light — its retrospective importance. With two of the four superstars of the movement now dead, Pop pictures and objects, like Impressionist, Cubist and Abstract Expressionist works, are quickly becoming truly historical. A surge in the mini-industry of Pop may well follow. The Whitney Museum of American Art's show on Warhol and fashion, to open this November, is a harbinger of the kind of historical rejiggering to come.
Clearly, Lichtenstein's death spells out something larger than his own end. Pop Art, the movement that the baby boomers grew up with, which influenced everything from the art in museums to TV shows like "Batman," feels as if it is accelerating into the past, aging a whole generation a little bit more as it races by with a cartoon bubble overhead that says "Wham!"
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