Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s studio in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village will be donated to the Whitney Museum of American Art, his widow Dorothy Lichtenstein and the museum announced yesterday. The massive, 9,000-square-foot space will become the first permanent home of the Whitney’s offbeat Independent Study Program (ISP).
The building, located at 741/745 Washington Street and initially designed to be a metalworking shop, was purchased by the artist in 1987 and used as his primary studio and New York residence from 1988 until his death in 1997. The ground floor of the building housed Lichtenstein’s studio, with a living space on the second floor and a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor. Since his death, Dorothy Lichtenstein has continued to occupy the apartment floor, and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation has used the rest of the building to organize his archives and produce a catalogue raisonné — no easy task for an artist who was veritably prolific, with more than 5,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, murals, and other artworks to his name.
Lichtenstein’s studio was a garage-like space with high ceilings, plastered brick walls, and warm, lacquered hardwood floors. With the main rectangular space measuring 60 by 80 feet, there was more than enough room for the Lichtensteins to jog around in the mornings. Railings that the couple dug out of the junkyard of a French theater in Los Angeles decorate the second floor balcony, and cabinets that were once part of jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman’s house can be found in the apartment.
In 2013, the building was renovated; in addition to taking steps to preserve his studio, two eyebrow-shaped arched skylights were added as well as a rooftop garden for two Lichtenstein sculptures. Caliper Studio, enlisted to spearhead the renovation effort, was careful to maintain the distinctive characteristics of the artist’s studio, such as a built-in wall easel feature and the splatters of paint that bespeckled the floor.
Architecture firm Johnston Marklee has been recruited to adapt the space so it can be best used by the Independent Study Program. The first and second floors will become common areas for students, and the third floor will host guests including visiting artists and scholars in residence. ISP will begin using the building in the summer of 2023 — well-timed to coincide with Lichtenstein’s centennial. When ISP is not in session during the summer months, the building will be used for a number of other educational purposes.
Founded in 1968, ISP has a storied history of instructing and bringing together early-career artists, curators, and art historians, counting critic Hal Foster and conceptual artist Barbara Kruger among its former faculty and photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier and New York Times art critic Roberta Smith among its alumni. Lichtenstein himself taught seminars for the program. Yet until now, the ISP has not had a dedicated home, moving between a variety of spaces it has leased.
That Lichtenstein’s home and studio will go to the Whitney’s ISP is fitting for an artist who collaborated closely with the museum throughout his lifetime. In 1965, his work was shown as part of the Whitney’s 1965 annual exhibition and A Decade of American Drawings, 1955-1965. In the decades since, the Lichtenstein Foundation has bequeathed over 400 works to the museum and worked jointly with the institution to establish the Roy Lichtenstein Study Collection, the largest study collection of his art in the world.