Safe Showcase! Roy Lichtenstein’s America’s Cup Mermaid Goes on Show at Middlebury

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By Tom Teodorczuk | 7:55 am, June 2, 2017

Turns out that mermaids get easier treatment at Middlebury College than conservative intellectuals.

Middlebury, which has lately been all at sea for its treatment of speakers who aren’t ultra-liberal, has opened a new exhibition at its Museum of Art celebrating iconic Pop Art painter Roy Lichtenstein’s little-known 1995 America’s Cup commission.

Lichtenstein, one of the most famous artist in the world at that time, depicted a golden-haired mermaid gliding through the sea- nicknamed Dorothy- which covered the hull and and spinnaker of the 77-foot-long boat which was named Young America.

In 1994 Lichtenstein was asked by PACT95, a syndicate organized to compete in the America’s Cup trials the following year, to paint Young America in his bold comic-book style. It was the only time in history a leading artist has ever designed the composition of a hull raced in the America’s Cup.

The 77-foot hull of Young America, is on loan to Middlebury from the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York. In addition the skipper of the syndicate Kevin Mahaney, now a real estate CEO, went as far as Japan to track down Lichtenstein’s original drawings for the exhibition documenting the unique project which opens today.

Mr Mahaney, who majored in economics at Middlebury, told Heat Street: “Back when I was skippering the boat, I did not have the resources to do something like this and so when the opportunity came up to pull this together, it was exciting.

“Everybody said, ‘You’ll never be able to do this’ so it took a lot of commitment and perseverance to do something nobody has done before. I’m a man who usually has a sense of urgency but to pull this collection together, there wasn’t any end date. It took six years.”

Young America was among the last major commissions for Lichtenstein who died in 1997. He was introduced via members of the New York Yacht Club who thought him a suitable fit.

Mr Mahaney, who later won a silver medal in sailing at the 1992 Olympics, said Lichtenstein’s Americas Cup involvement went relatively unnoticed: “At the time most people did not know it because it was a commissioned work that happened so quickly that it never got the publicity or the recognition.

“Roy had done pictures of clouds, sun rays and mermaids so it was an opportunity to bring his ideas in a new and interesting way. Even the foundation had lost track of the four pieces that were in Osaka’s Museum of Modern Art. They weren’t even catalogued.

“This is a found gem. It illuminates how committed, intense and large the [artistic] process is. It doesn’t happen over a weekend assignment. When you look at the original intent of Roy’s participation, in an age of AI and metadata, the human imagination and creativity on show is extraordinary and unreplicable.”

The exhibition opening, which coincides with the start of this year’s America’s Cup in Bermuda, will also feature the premier of Reflections on a Mermaid, a feature-length documentary by the documentary filmmaker Theodore Bogosian.

Mr Bogosian told Heat Street: “When Roy showed these works in 1994, they were overshadowed by the nudes. I know he loved how it turned out because he came to the christening.

He added: “Even though the hull ended up being on ESPN every day,  people didn’t pay attention to the artwork because nobody knew if there would be more of these coming along-now you see racing with commercial logos and brand names.” . But since that cup in 1995 there hasn’t been another boat that was a work of art. So that made it special in retrospect- it was an outlier.

However Lichtenstein never saw the boat as it was intended to be seen because a rogue tornado in San Diego damaged the yacht’s compound causing it to be re-built and re-painted. Dennis Conner ultimately sailed Young America but lost the 1995 America’s Cup to New Zealand.

The fascinating exhibition is on at Middlebury College Museum of Art until mid-August.