RESEARCH: Entablature XA (1976) in Alex Morrison’s Exhibition Phantoms of a Utopian Will

Jordan Lemoine | January 29, 2016

Roy Lichtenstein’s work Entablature XA (1976) is a large rectangular screenprint depicting an entablature, the horizontal piece that rests above columns in Greek and Roman architecture. Drawn from a larger series which traces variations of this architectural element, from its ancient beginnings through to its use in European and American architecture, Entablature XA differs from earlier editions in the series in its inclusion of text, with the word “JVSTITIA,” Latin for justice, spanning the width of the work in bold, silver letters. This lends the work a social and political character, which shown within the context of Alex Morrison’s exhibition Phantoms of a Utopian Will, contributes to a number of through lines, crosscurrents and tensions.

Lichtenstein gained prominence in the 1960s pop art scene with bold works that drew on the aesthetics of comic strips. Drowning Girl (1963) for example is a work in which Lichtenstein took a strip from the DC comic Run For Love! featuring a drowning woman. He edited the strip by cropping out the woman’s boyfriend­–who in the original is attempting to save her–and altering the text to create ambiguity in the meaning. Lichtenstein’s style later evolved from making art from comic strips, to making comic strips of art. In Woman with Flowered Hat (1963), Lichtenstein took a Picasso painting of Dora Maar and recreated it in a cartoon/comic strip aesthetic.

In the early 1970s, Lichtenstein embraced architecture as a subject, and deepened processes of appropriation by referencing not original works, but appropriations of original works. This creates distance, makes his work an abstraction loosely related to the original, and draws attention to the process of appropriation, and the historical progress of the original work continually revised by different cultures throughout history.

The Entablature series was developed over two distinct periods: the first was produced between 1971-72, and the second between1974-76. The source material for the first part of Lichtenstein’s series were photos the artist took of  Greco-Roman-inspired architecture in lower Manhattan. These 20th century buildings were based not on the original Greco-Roman architecture, but on 19th century renditions by French Beaux-Arts architects. Owing to changing aesthetic tastes and evolving material conditions and technologies, the modern entablature has lost many original qualities, and gained many new ones. Lichtenstein, no doubt also thinking about the relationships between the architectural frieze, the film strip and its printed analogue–the comic strip, emphasizes these relationalities and historical, architectural quotations and translations, by reducing the entablature to its essential elements.

IMAGE CREDITS: Roy Lichtenstein, from Entablature series, 1970-71/1974-76 

The second part of the series departs from photographs as source material, with the first series now serving as the reference point. Lichtenstein began to take more liberty with the form, no longer strictly binding himself to the traditional proportions of the architectural structure of architrave, frieze and cornice for example. This isn’t to say that he abandoned the essential qualities he’d retained in the first part of the series, but only that he was less strict in his depictions of them.

IMAGE CREDITS: Roy Lichtenstein, from Entablature series, 1970-71/1974-76 

The text included in Entablature XA, “JVSTITIA,” references Justitia, or Lady Justice, the Roman Goddess of Justice, the personification of fair and objective law. Statues of Justitia, often shown blindfolded and holding a set of scales, are still erected in court houses and judicial buildings, as the values that she represents remain the foundation of modern judicial systems.

IMAGE CREDITS: Roy Lichtenstein, Entablature XA, 1976

One of Morrison’s works in Dun Lurnin, Dun Cairin, Dun Livin (2014-2015), a series of ceramic plates and sculptures, also alludes to a Classical figure. The small ceramic sculpture is a flat, cartoonized profile view of the face of Diogenes, a Greek philosopher associated with cynicism, a school of thought founded on the belief that life is best lived in accordance with virtue and nature. 

IMAGE CREDITS: Alex Morrison, Dun Lurnin, Dun Cairin, Dun Livin (2014-2015), (Installation view)

The letters “ACAB” have been cut of the clay below the face, a reference to an  an anarchistic slogan “All Cops Are Bastards,” that, several centuries removed, correlates to Diogenes’ opposition to political structures that enforce human law, social hierarchies, and the pursuit of wealth and power. Morrison’s conflation of anarchist principles with the Greco-Roman philosophy of Cynicism, painted a glossy black and situated in juxtaposition to Lichtenstein’s “JVSTITIA,” figures as a strong and persistent countercultural shadow of mainstream, political orders.

For more information on Alex Morrison: Phantoms of a Utopian Will / Like Most Follies, More Than a Joke and More Than a Whim click here. 

<< Previous BlogBack to 2016 | Next Blog >>