The genius, if that’s what it is, behind the project turned out to be as fashion photographer Bert Stern, who had conceived the idea of a shop with objects for the home designed by artists or fashion designers. Apart from promoting the Marilyn photographs that he had taken six years earlier ( the Last Sitting series) by having them transferred to anything from scarves to wallpaper, Stern invited a host of artists and designers, because On 1st was meant to be a shop of ideas. There was even an artist in residence, whose task was to produce them, whether they were usable or not. His name was James Lee Byars, a man who, in Sheppard’s words, ‘looked like a Mennonite father with shoulder-length hair, a wide-brimmed black hat and a frock coat’. She found him sitting in Stern’s office, the floor scattered with sketches on pink paper.
On 1st was a thrilling, but short-lived adventure. The shop was closed in what must have been a matter of months , if not weeks. Curiously enough, the fact that it is remembered at all is largely due to Roy Lichtenstein. In any Google search his name is almost invariably coupled with that of the shop, perhaps even more often than that of Stern himself. The reason is that Lichtenstein made some of the most important contributions to the project, and while the shop itself came and went, some of its products lived on and as Lichtenstein’s fame rose, the objects he designed for On 1st acquired legendary status. They include the wrapping paper, a high polish wallpaper that looked like stainless steel, and, most famous of all, the silkscreened paper plates. These were originally sold in shrink-wrapped sets of ten, a bargain at $3, and many of them must simply have been thrown away. What copies survived have since become rare and highly desirable. They now count as official Lichtenstein multiples and are listed in Mary Lee Corlett’s catalogue raisonné of Lichtenstein’s prints. It is by no means uncommon to see them offered, neatly framed, in high-end art galleries, ‘price on request’. In other words, they have attained the status of Art.
Some people might argue that in looking upon these and similar objects as objets d’art, we have come a long way from the artists’ original intentions, which were based on the idea of making original art available to a large public. And they do have a point there. On the other hand, with prices for Lichtenstein paintings soaring from one auction record to the next, the discrepancy between the original prices of multiples and ephemera and the prices you have to pay for them today is perhaps not, proportionally, so very different from those of his paintings.