“Jews and comic books” is a topic that has received extensive treatment in the last 15 years. But what of the Jewish visual artists whose paintings are inspired by comic books? What of Roy Lichtenstein? Jewish studies scholars can look forward to the day when a dissertation is written about Lichtenstein as a Jewish artist, or an exhibition is curated on the same theme.
“Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective,” now on view at the Art institute of Chicago with upcoming stops at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate Modern in London, and the Pompidou Center in Paris, is not that exhibit. But its silence on Lichtenstein’s Jewishness offers a starting point for considering how Jewishness and art intersected for one founder of Pop Art.
Born and bred on the Upper West Side in a family of middle class German Jewish immigrants, Lichtenstein’s Jewish roots are undeniable; it is the trajectory of his career, as displayed in the current retrospective — the largest grouping of the artist’s work ever shown — that raises new questions about what it means to be a Jewish artist. Literary critics have long described the ethnic flavor of mid-20th century American Jewish writers in terms of emotional release and affront to WASP decorum, but the art world presents an almost opposite picture.