Lichtenstein’s ‘Young America’ featured at Middlebury College Museum of Art

In 1994, PACT 95, a syndicate organized to compete in the America’s Cup trials the following year, invited Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) to create a graphic design for the hull and spinnaker of their boat. The syndicate, which included as skipper, Kevin Mahaney, a 1984 graduate of Middlebury College and the winner of a silver medal in sailing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is responsible for the implementation of one of Lichtenstein’s largest and last works. On Friday, May 26 the Middlebury College Museum of Art opened the exhibition Young America: Roy Lichtenstein and the America’s Cup. The exhibit, which will remain on view through August 13, includes the actual 77-foot hull of Young America — on loan to Middlebury from Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY — which is displayed above the pond adjacent to the Museum. Featured in the exhibit are Lichtenstein’s original drawing for the project, from a private collection, and four important preliminary works by the artist: the maquettes for the hull and spinnaker, as well as two schematic drawings, all of which are on loan from the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art, Japan.
The exhibit recounts the history of the Lichtenstein commission and places it within the context of the America’s Cup races before and since. The first America’s Cup was awarded by Great Britain’s Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851 to the schooner yacht “America” after a race around the Isle of Wight. From 1851 until 1983, the United States bested every challenger and the silver ewer, affectionately known as the “Auld Mug,” presented to the victor remained in the possession of the New York Yacht Club. But since the original match there have been 33 challenges and the cup has at various times been held by Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Lichtenstein’s graphic design, which covers the entire length of the hull, is comprised of a golden-haired mermaid gliding through the sea. In selecting this image, the artist utilized a motif that has been a popular element of vessels for centuries. Prior to the modern era sailing vessels often featured a figurehead that represented various gods, national symbols, people of prominence, and mythical creatures, such as the mermaid. These choices were intended to protect the vessel and bring it good luck. Lichtenstein developed a design that consciously placed the mermaid’s head and torso where it recalls the figureheads of an earlier era. To complement the hull decoration, Lichtenstein designed a spinnaker emblazoned with bright rays of sunlight showering down on the boat.
Young America is known as an International America’s Cup Class (IACC) vessel that was developed as a successor to the 12-metre yachts sailed in Cup races from 1958–1987. The IACC boats, which could be up to 82 feet long, weigh up to 24 tons and have a mast 115 feet tall, were sailed in America’s Cup races from 1992–2007, after which the design rules were changed again to enhance experimentation and competition.
Additional prints, photographs, and paintings in the exhibit, such as Fitz Henry Lane’s Yacht “Northern Light” in Boston Harbor (1845), on loan from Shelburne Museum, examine the history of yacht racing in America from the years immediately prior to 1851. While the evolution of yacht design and choice of materials have played an instrumental role in determining subsequent America’s Cup victors, these factors have accelerated in recent years and today’s yachts bear little resemblance to their classic predecessors such as Young America.
Two flat screens in the exhibit will provide complementary film history of Young America and stream this year’s America’s Cup trials and the cup races themselves.
The Middlebury College Museum of Art, located in the Mahaney Center for the Arts on Rte. 30 on the southern edge of campus, is free and open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and on the weekend from 12-5 p.m. For more information call (802) 443–5007 or TTY (802) 443–3155, or visit museum.middlebury.edu.

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