What do 13-year-olds know about art?
In my case not much of anything. But for some precocious reason I got it into my head that I wanted to buy some to hang on the wall in my bedroom when, as happens to dutiful Jewish boys, I got a hundred bucks stuffed in my jacket pocket by uncles after “becoming bar mitzvah,” a ceremony that in no way did what it purported -- push me over a threshold into manhood.
Maybe the subconscious impetus was hey, grownups own art and I was supposed to be one now, so I should.
My dad said that the Rose Art Museum in Waltham was having a show so we could go over there and take a look. He had no interest in such things but was willing to indulge me, amused by (maybe a little proud of) my inclination.
This being 1966, the Rose was trying to be cutting edge so curated a show dubbed Pop Art. “Pop” was intended to evoke pop-ular — accessible, contemporary, not overlaid with a lot of traditional representation; also as a verb, to pop, smack your senses in an effervescent way, like soda pop.
We showed up and I meandered until I came across three pieces that looked familiar, like comic books I was devouring. Three panels created one vignette, bold colors and black outlines, fields with little dots like print screens blown up, accompanying narrative on yellow, sounds expressed BRATATATA -- a machinegun blasting on a fighter plane. The words atop the first panel began, “As I opened fire…”
“This is cool,” I told my father.
“Suppose so,” he said. That they were in the show was sufficient credibility. At $30 per print, they were in the ballpark.
“I’m gonna buy them,” I told him.
“Tell you what,” he said, “you buy them, I’ll pay to get them framed.”
I plunked down my bar mitzvah money. Three posters, each two feet high and about 16 inches wide, were rolled into a single tube tucked under my arm. When we got home I unfurled them for my mother and sisters who didn’t pay much mind, just another adolescent comic book war rendition. I made a point of saying that the framer should be sure that the signature of the artist, affixed in pencil outside the final frame bottom right, remain visible.
“OK,” Dad said, “but how come?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “it just seems cool.”
“What’s his name anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated irritably.
When the triptych came back, simple black frames costing as much as the art, I saw the name the artist had penciled in:
More than 50 years later I still have the series, though they no longer speak to me beyond a nostalgic whisper. I haven’t lived with them for a long time, keeping them safe but not appreciated. I’ve come to think more like my mom and sisters, while the world has moved to my teenage opinion. Lichtenstein’s playful vignettes have resonated, enlarged cartooning that seems superficial but implies emotion below a stylized, ersatz-commercial surface. The originals of my prints are at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
People tell me that signed Roy Lichtensteins, in good shape with clear authenticating history, might be worth a lot more than $30 each. Maybe the time has come to find out; the cash would facilitate more life satisfaction than prints I no longer enjoy, much as I cherish the story.
But if I sell them I need to make a promise to myself, inspired by the pop spontaneity of a teenager:
Use at least some of the money to buy more art.
Cool story........that’s all you need😘
I enjoyed reading about your art purchase at 13 - I did this myself, but very differently. I lived in Eastham then, was rather "arty", and bought (with hard-earned, lawnmowing $$) - two watercolors (one per summer) by Betty Lane at an art gallery in Orleans. I think they were $25 each. I still own them and one I still love. Bravo on your purchase! I think those purchases were important steps we took and I'm glad your father supported it by framing -- I think mine also helped in that regard. Thanks for sharing this.