Roy Lichtenstein’s 1963 diptych painting, Whaam!, is one of the most notable pop art pieces and a significant work in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre. The left canvas depicts an American fighter plane firing a missile at an enemy airplane on the right panel, based on imagery from DC comics. Lichtenstein often used popular culture references in his art to explore the boundaries of high and low art.
Whaam! disrupted traditional expectations by elevating comic book imagery to museum walls. It challenged norms by transforming an image of conflict into artwork instead of destructiveness associated with war: it simultaneously celebrates cinematic heroism as well as comments on guns being depicted widely in media culture.
Whaam! is significant to both Pop Art and postmodernism movements; it highlights the extent to which images from mass media can be deployed critically within “serious” artwork—what cultural theorist Frederic Jameson referred to as “pasting fragments together.” It has become a pinnacle in media critique- which connects politics, war crime reporting via photojournalism, and aesthetics across disparate media forms such as comics and abstract Expressionism.
Today, Whaam! is on permanent display at Tate Modern as one of its most lauded pieces. It showcases Lichtenstein’s preoccupation with light, outline strips made famous through comic heroes alongside juxtaposed text boxes that communicate noise effects- CRASH!, KAPOW!, WHAAM!.