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Pop goes the yacht: Roy Lichtenstein’s designs for America’s Cup sail to Vermont

As well as the artist’s models, drawings and the mermaid-themed vessel itself, the exhibition includes the premier of a documentary film about the historic project

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The hull of a sailing ship painted by Roy Lichtenstein for the 1995 America’s Cup in San Diego, California, is the star of a show opening this month at the Middlebury College Museum of Art in Vermont, timed to coincide with this year's sailing race, which launches in Bermuda on 26 May.

Young America: Roy Lichtenstein and the America's Cup (26 May-13 August) brings together, for the first time, models and a drawing of the design alongside the vessel itself. It also includes the premiere of a new film by the Emmy winner Theodore Bogosian, who documented Lichtenstein as he worked on the commission, the racing team PACT 95’s second-place finish, and its history since.

Kevin Mahaney, the ship's skipper in 1995 who spearheaded the current exhibition, says the project has been a process of discovery. "I knew who Roy Lichtenstein was and I appreciated his work, but I was deep in the weeds of preparing for the race" in 1994, when the artist was commissioned, he says. "In the film, you see my expression was the same as Roy's" when the yacht was unveiled, he says, noting their mutual excitement.

Bogosian's film includes rarely-seen footage of Lichtenstein at work, the ship's christening and its trip from the Storm King Art Center in Windsor, New York, where it is part of the collection, to Middlebury, where it is now on view. In Vermont, the boat has been installed to reveal its mermaid motif as fully as possible. "It's floating a foot off the surface, so you can see the whole bottom of the boat," Bogosian says.

Mahaney says he hopes to later bring the hull to Newport, Rhode Island, for a pop-up display, and then perhaps to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which would be something of a homecoming: the project was first publicly announced at the Whitney’s Breuer building in 1994.