By John d'Addario | The New Orleans Advocate
If you've visited the New Orleans Museum of Art over the last few months, you're already aware that there are some big changes in progress around the building's iconic facade.
The area in front of the museum at the end of Lelong Avenue in City Park is surrounded by scaffolding while work on a redesigned fountain and driveway is completed.
This month, NOMA announced that part of that space also will be occupied by a landmark acquisition: It's renowned pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's monumental sculpture "Five Brushstrokes," designed by the artist in 1984 and fabricated by the artist's estate in 2010.
The sculpture was donated to the museum by longtime NOMA benefactors Sydney and Walda Besthoff, whose world-class collection of outdoor sculpture is on view in NOMA's sculpture garden nearby.
The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, which oversees the artist's estate, also is responsible for part of the gift.
"Five Brushstrokes" is a 20-foot-tall painted aluminum sculpture created in Lichtenstein's characteristic and immediately recognizable pop art style, in which liquid, two-dimensional painted shapes are translated into a towering, three-dimensional work of art.
In its combination of painting and sculpture, the work will serve as a fitting and very visible visual introduction to NOMA's encyclopedic collection of art.
"Five Brushstrokes" will place NOMA within an elite group of public art institutions in the United States.
"With Lichtenstein outdoor sculptures of other styles and subjects in Dallas, Atlanta and Miami Beach," said Jack Cowart, the foundation's executive director, "it is a wonderful opportunity to have this 'Five Brushstrokes' sculpture find such a happy home in New Orleans."
Lichtenstein, who died in 1997, is best known for paintings, especially the ones which depict panels from comic books blown up to heroic proportions, heightening their formal qualities while exaggerating their emotional content. ("I don't care! I'd rather sink ... than call Brad for help!" sighs the subject of Lichtenstein's 1963 painting "Drowning Girl," now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.)
Lichtenstein's sculptures, on which he focused during the last two decades of his career, are perhaps less known than his paintings, despite their prominence in museum and public art collections both in the United States and abroad. But they share the larger-than-life presence of his canvas subjects as well as some of their recurring visual motifs.
The enlarged brushstroke, for example, shows up in many of Lichtenstein's paintings, especially in a series he completed in the mid-1960s at the height of his reputation as one of pop art's enfants terribles.
In those paintings, Lichtenstein used the brushstroke as an ironic commentary on the seriousness and self-importance of Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s.
Later, however, the brushstroke came to symbolize for him the freedom of the individual artist and the presence of the artist's hand in the creative process.
"Five Brushstrokes" will serve as a potent visual reminder of that process to NOMA visitors after the sculpture is unveiled to the public. NOMA hopes that its installation will be complete by the end of the year.
In the words of NOMA's Montine McDaniel Freeman Director Susan M. Taylor, "Its placement in front of the museum will ensure that it will be appreciated and enjoyed by generations of visitors for many years to come."