A Retrospective

The Entablatures can be divided into black-and-white works (1971–72) and later works in color (1974–76). Their source was a series of photographs of classical motifs on institutional buildings that Lichtenstein took in and around New York City's Wall Street. His goal was to ascertain the minimum information required to build paintings that would read as architrave, cornice, and frieze, the three components of a classical entablature. The artist sought a kind of statistical average of Greco-Roman-inspired architecture—through the lens of its imitation by early-20th-century American architects, whose work was already an imitation of 19th-century French Beaux-Arts architects, themselves copying ancient sources. The Entablatures are the result of this complex appropriation, which explains Lichtenstein's recourse to photographs taken in New York City: he ignored the temptation to consult "originals" and instead used pointedly derivative, vernacular forms as his point of departure.

The works in this series mark Lichtenstein's last sustained engagement with one of his episodic concerns—the congruence between image and field, where, in the artist's words, "the size and shape of the subject and the size and shape of the painting are the same." Lichtenstein called the series "interesting in its uninterestingness." His formulation recalls sculptor Donald Judd's famous declaration that a work "needs only to be interesting." Humorously noting Minimalism's long prehistory, Lichtenstein here alluded to the ancient Greeks' use of serial motifs. The artist explained, "The Entablatures . . . were essentially a way of making a Minimalist painting that has a Classical reference."

Roy Lichtenstein. Entablature, 1975. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.

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