Just accessioned into the museum collection is Roy Lichtenstein’s 1995 relief sculpture Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup. This major gift from Thurston and Sharon Twigg-Smith is now on view in the European and American temporary exhibition gallery, where it joins Robert Rauschenberg’s Trophy V (for Jasper Johns).

“This work now anchors our 20th-century collection,” says museum director Stephan Jost. “Lichtenstein defined the pop art movement and held a mirror up to American society, reflecting our consumer culture. The Twigg-Smiths have been deeply generous to the museum and the entire O‘ahu community. Once a decade or so, the museum has the honor of accessioning a work of masterpiece quality into its collection. This is one of those moments.”

As founders of The Contemporary Museum in 1986, the Twigg-Smiths have played an invaluable role in the support of contemporary art in Honolulu, and both serve on the Honolulu Museum of Art’s board of trustees. “We felt it was an important piece for the museum to have,” says Sharon. “Every once in a while we need a bit of a jump start to keep things exciting at the museum.”

She adds that the museum’s Volunteer Appreciation Lunch in April started her thinking about how many people support the museum. “We have so many people who care about the museum, and we all give in different ways. This gift is something we can do that affects everybody—in big and little ways.”

Talking about the work, it’s clear how meaningful it is to Sharon. “She is mysterious, yet somehow familiar, as is her environment. This piece speaks to me on so many different levels. And I can’t help but think it speaks especially to women.”

The wall relief has held a prominent place in the Twigg-Smith home. “I already miss it,” says Sharon. “I miss the conversation with her every morning. It’s a special piece and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we have.”

Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997)
Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup, 1995
Machined aluminum, paint and wax
Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of Thurston and Sharon Twigg-Smith, 2014 (2014-12-01)
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

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Curator of Contemporary Art James Jensen wrote this about the new acquisition:
Lichtenstein was one of the key figures in the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s, developing his innovative, signature style by appropriating subject matter and style characteristics from comic strips. Lichtenstein painted his banal subjects in simple, bold colors—usually red, yellow, blue and black—and imitated commercial printing techniques by representing shading with patterns of colored dots enlarged from the half-tone screens of Ben Day dots used in the production of newspapers and comics.

Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup is one of the few wall-relief sculptures which Lichtenstein made (most were free-standing), and in subject matter it combines aspects of two bodies of work which the artist produced in the 1990s, the Interiors and the Nudes. During the early and mid-1990s, he produced images of interiors focusing on modern furniture and architecture, the simple decorative forms and atmosphere of domestic life. Then in the mid-1990s Lichtenstein returned to the motif of the female figure which had predominated in his 1960s paintings.

In Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup, Lichtenstein combined aspects of the two series, showing the back of the head of a woman looking into a room setting with carpet, chair, and table, on which sits a potted plant and the yellow cup in the title. On the wall is a Picasso-esque painting in a frame. The diagonal perspective, the irregular shape of the relief, and the partial rendering of the chair and other elements in the composition create interesting, dynamic spatial ambiguities. The relief also has open spaces where visual elements have been left out, and it hangs several inches off the wall, so that when lit, real cast shadows become part of the experience. Completed just two years before the artist’s death, this impressive work shows Lichtenstein as a master artist at the pinnacle of his career.