Lichtenstein retrospective and Civil War art highlight 2012-13 season

There’s hasn’t been a full retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein’s career since the artist died in 1997 at the age of 73. The National Gallery of Art remedies that with “Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective,” a large, 134-object exhibition devoted to the artist’s long and productive career (Oct. 14). Sprawling over 15,000 square feet of the gallery’s East Building, the Lichtenstein show surveys every major chapter of the artist’s oeuvre, from the early pop paintings through the comic-book panels of War and Romance and the meticulous studies of pattern in his Black and White series, and on into the artist’s last decade, with his Chinese landscape series. Although the show was first seen at the Art Institute in Chicago (where it was well received by audiences and critics), and will continue on to the Tate Modern in London early next year, its Washington visit has special resonance. Among the treasures of the 20th-century collection at the National Gallery is a lurid 1961 red-yellow-blue painting “Look Mickey,” the artist’s first major pop work. Lichtenstein will be the major exhibition of the fall season, and a nice complement to last year’s blockbuster at the gallery, “Warhol: Headlines,” which also expanded the parameters of how we think about pop art.

Since October 2009, the 150th anniversary of the John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry, we’ve been in the middle of long season of Civil War remembrance. But an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museumwould appear to be the first major exhibition devoted to the art of the Civil War to appear in Washington since the anniversary cycle began. “The Civil War and American Art” (Nov. 16) features 59 paintings and 18 photographs, and includes work by some of the central American artistic figures of the middle 19th-century, including Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson and Frederic Church. For Civil War enthusiasts, its appeal is obvious; for art lovers, it offers a chance to grapple with the sometimes cloying, sometimes breathtaking realism of 19th-century American art. It continues on to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the spring of 2013.

Before it was a regional powerhouse fueled by enormous oil profits, the Saudi Arabian peninsula was a major thoroughfare, for trade, pilgrims and other migrations. “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”(Nov. 17) is billed as the Sackler Gallery’s bonanza show of the season, a feast of alabaster, gold, bronze and glass objects, many of them recent archaeological discoveries. Some of what is on display is seen for the first time in North America, and may not be seen in Washington again for a long time, if ever.

“Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is billed as the first major exhibition devoted to the often overlooked, hiding-in-plain-sight presence of Africans in the Renaissance painting of Europe (Oct. 14). Trade and exploration, conflicts with the Ottoman Empire in North Africa, religious war and a desire for slaves created some of the first sustained contact between Europeans and Africans since Roman days, forcing artists and audiences to think about race and identity in new ways. The exhibition features some 75 works, drawn from the Walters’s collection and major collections in the United States and abroad.

Finally, the Baltimore Museum of Art gives viewers their first chance to visit its transformed Contemporary Art wing (Nov. 18). After a $6.5 million makeover, the new galleries reopen with a black-box space for video for light, sound and moving-image works, plus interactive galleries and several newly acquired works by Susan Philipsz, Sarah Sze and Rikrit Tiravanija.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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