by Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Under gray winter skies, a towering crane lifted the New Orleans Museum of Art's new two-story pop art sculpture into place Monday morning. The sculpture, titled "Five Brushstrokes," was designed by Roy Lichtenstein, one of the 20th century's most significant artists. Lichtenstein was born in 1923 and died in 1997. The sculpture, which he designed in 1984, was manufactured in 2010.
The Lichtenstein arrived in an odd high-tech semi truck with a flexible pleated trailer that compressed like an accordion to reveal the sculpture inside. The Lichtenstein was wrapped in brown blankets and a plastic sheet. After careful preparation, the crane hoisted the sculpture into the air for a short trip to its custom-made concrete base in the center of a new reflecting pond at the museum entrance. Once the 24-foot sculpture was bolted in place, workmen removed the wrapper to reveal the colorful sculpture. The sun cooperated by appearing briefly.
The installation of the sculpture took more than two hours. The weather was a bit brisk for museum benefactor Sydney Besthoff, who watched the proceedings from behind the barrier of yellow hazard ribbon. Sydney and Walda Besthoff purchased the sculpture from the Lichtenstein Foundation for an undisclosed amount. Sydney Besthoff said that there was a long negotiation before the purchase.
"There were only a few (Lichtenstein) pieces of this size and scope available," he said.
When the Besthoffs first saw the sculpture, it was on display at a small museum outside of Boston. The setting, Besthoff said, was beautiful. The sculpture was situated atop a hill, surrounded by trees. There was a layer of snow on the ground. The sculpture's New Orleans location lacks the hill, the trees, and snow, but Besthoff said the site is every bit as attractive.
"It will make the view of the museum, as you're coming to it, much more dramatic," he said. "We really have scaled it well for this museum."
Walda Besthoff said that brushstrokes are an ideal image for the entry of an art museum.
“It says art, art, art, here we are," she said. "It's just such a statement. It's a wonderful thing to have in front of the museum. I can't think of anything that would be better.”
Lichtenstein was an art star from the same generation as Andy Warhol. Ironically, he made his mark on the art world by NOT using the sort of big, messy brushstrokes depicted in the new NOMA sculpture. Instead, Lichtenstein meticulously reproduced scenes from comic books, as flatly and precisely as possible. The scenes he chose of war and lover's strife were emotional, but his style was anything but.
His paintings were irritating to some onlookers because, despite their labor-intensiveness, they deliberately lacked the human touch. There was some very dry humor in that.
Later in his career, Lichtenstein further emphasized the dispassion of his artwork by emotionlessly reproducing emotional brushstrokes in his paintings. Lichtenstein made himself into a robotic Matisse. He was the Mr. Spock of pop art. There was no one anywhere more cerebral or more distant. And along the way Lichtenstein designed sculptures that reinterpreted his utterly flat paintings in three dimensions. Even his sculptures defy expectations, since they don’t have much volume and remain essentially flat. "Five Brushstrokes" is Lichtenstein at his subversive best.
If there's a downside to the installation of "Five Brushstrokes," it's that the Lichtenstein replaces a glinting kinetic sculpture by one of the Crescent City's art heroes, Lin Emery. The Emery sculpture has been moved to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden beside the museum.
The Besthoffs are among the city's biggest art supporters Mr. Besthoff explained his motivation to provide the public with art like so:
"I do this for the love of the city and love of art."
On the same subject, Mrs. Besthoff said she feels the new sculpture belongs to everyone who attends the New Orleans Museum of Art.
"We love sculpture and obviously we can't put this in our living room. It's wonderful to share it with other people. ... We love the museum. It's not as if we're giving it away. It's as if we're putting it in our museum. That's a grand feeling."
Look for a video of the installation later today.