Collage and the New Laocoön

 It is quite easy to show that abstract art like every other cultural phenomenon reflects the social and other circumstances of the age in which its creators live…

…realistic space cracks and splinters into flat planes which come forward, parallel to the plane surface…

Clement Greenberg ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’ (1940)

It is all well and good to get excited as a Classicist when you come across a Modern Art version of a Classical sculpture – such as Roy Lichtenstein’s Laocoon – as the splashes of color and Pop-landscape bring the iconic statue somehow up to date. But should we get excited? What makes Lichtenstein’s Laocoon modern? In terms of Greenberg’s famous essay ‘Towards a New Laocoon’ (1940), Lichtenstein’s Laocoon, neither disrupts the Classical sculpture’s ‘content’ in how it ‘reflects’ its own social and cultural circumstances nor disturbs the Classicism of its form – the colors neither ‘crack’ nor ‘splinter’ the flat plane of the canvas. More compelling are the uses of the Laocoon sculpture in the works of three artists – Richard Hawkins, Anita Steckel (see her obituary by Richard Meyer in the Summer edition of Artforum for a better view & to understand why it is a ‘new Laocoon’) and Leigh Ledare. In each work, the form of collage and the manipulated photograph, engage with questions of gender, sexuality and even incest that reconfigure our recognition of Laocoon and his sons in potentially more exciting ways than Lichtenstein’s Pop Classicism.


Roy Lichtenstein Laocoon, 1988
Oil and Magna on canvas
120 x 102 inches
Richard Hawkins Urbis Paganus IV. 9. VI. B. 
(Laocoon, copies of copies), 2009
Mixed Media on matte board.
50.8 x 38. 1 cm


Anita Steckel, Secret Members, 1965
Leigh Ledare, Untitled (Gein, Greenberg, Laocoön), 2010, 14 x 21 inches
In this company, it is William Blake’s Laocoön etching, not Lichtenstein’s painting, that seems somehow more modern.
William Blake Laocoön, 1826.

2 thoughts on “Collage and the New Laocoön

  1. Since writing this post I had the chance of seeing Lichtenstein's Laocoon in the flesh & I have to admit it completely changed the way I think about this work. I will blog about my revised opinion in a future post.

  2. Pingback: Black Lives’ Matter: Sanford Biggers’ Laocoon and William Pope L.’s Latin – Minus Plato

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