Middlebury College Museum of ArtIn 1994, Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) was invited by PACT 95, a syndicate organized to compete in the America’s Cup trials the following year, to create a graphic design for the hull and spinnaker of their boat. The skipper of the syndicate, Kevin Mahaney, a 1984 graduate of Middlebury College and the winner of a silver medal in sailing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, led the commissioning of one of Lichtenstein’s largest and last works. On Friday, May 26, in conjunction with the 2017 America’s Cup, the Middlebury College Museum of Art opens the exhibition Young America: Roy Lichtenstein and the America’s Cup.

The exhibit, includes the actual seventy-seven 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, on loan from the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art, Japan. 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.

Lichtenstein’s design, which covers the entire length of the hull, depicts 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. Following Lichtenstein’s plan, students from the Rhode Island School of Design painted the boat, which then raced in the 1995 America’s Cup.

The exhibition will include a documentary feature film created by prize-winning filmmaker Theodore Bogosian. The film depicts the entire America’s Cup project, from the original commissioning in 1994, to the events that led to the opening of this exhibition. It features rare and exclusive coverage of Roy Lichtenstein in his studio, at the christening of the boat, and of skipper Kevin Mahaney at the helm of Young America during the 1995 America’s Cup.

Kevin Mahaney, Founder of The Kevin P. Mahaney Center for the Arts Foundation, says “This project brings together two of my greatest passions: sailing and contemporary art. I first discovered the power of art while a student at Middlebury, and I am delighted the public will now learn the fascinating story behind this commission by one of America’s leading artists.”

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. On May 26, 2017––the day the Middlebury exhibit opens––the trials to select this year’s challenger will be held in Bermuda. Three weeks later, on June 17th, the 35th America’s Cup Match will begin with the champion being the first boat to win seven races.