Summary of Pop Art
Pop art started with the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg, all of whom drew on popular imagery and were actually part of an international phenomenon. Following the popularity of the Abstract Expressionists, Pop's reintroduction of identifiable imagery (drawn from mass media and popular culture) was a major shift for the direction of modernism. The subject matter became far from traditional "high art" themes of morality, mythology, and classic history; rather, Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life, in this way seeking to elevate popular culture to the level of fine art. Perhaps owing to the incorporation of commercial images, Pop art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- By creating paintings or sculptures of mass culture objects and media stars, the Pop art movement aimed to blur the boundaries between "high" art and "low" culture. The concept that there is no hierarchy of culture and that art may borrow from any source has been one of the most influential characteristics of Pop art.
- It could be argued that the Abstract Expressionists searched for trauma in the soul, while Pop artists searched for traces of the same trauma in the mediated world of advertising, cartoons, and popular imagery at large. But it is perhaps more precise to say that Pop artists were the first to recognize that there is no unmediated access to anything, be it the soul, the natural world, or the built environment. Pop artists believed everything is inter-connected, and therefore sought to make those connections literal in their artwork.
- Although Pop art encompasses a wide variety of work with very different attitudes and postures, much of it is somewhat emotionally removed. In contrast to the "hot" expression of the gestural abstraction that preceded it, Pop art is generally "coolly" ambivalent. Whether this suggests an acceptance of the popular world or a shocked withdrawal, has been the subject of much debate.
- Pop artists seemingly embraced the post-World War II manufacturing and media boom. Some critics have cited the Pop art choice of imagery as an enthusiastic endorsement of the capitalist market and the goods it circulated, while others have noted an element of cultural critique in the Pop artists' elevation of the everyday to high art: tying the commodity status of the goods represented to the status of the art object itself, emphasizing art's place as, at base, a commodity.
- The majority of Pop artists began their careers in commercial art: Andy Warhol was a highly successful magazine illustrator and graphic designer; Ed Ruscha was also a graphic designer, and James Rosenquist started his career as a billboard painter. Their background in the commercial art world trained them in the visual vocabulary of mass culture as well as the techniques to seamlessly merge the realms of high art and popular culture.
Overview of Pop Art
From early innovators in London to later deconstruction of American imagery by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist - the Pop Art movement became one of the most thought-after of artistic directions.
Important Art and Artists of Pop Art
Paolozzi, a Scottish sculptor and artist, was a key member of the British post-war avant-garde. His collage I Was a Rich Man's Plaything proved an important foundational work for the Pop art movement, combining pop culture documents like a pulp fiction novel cover, a Coca-Cola advertisement, and a military recruitment advertisement. The work exemplifies the slightly darker tone of British Pop art, which reflected more upon the gap between the glamour and affluence present in American popular culture and the economic and political hardship of British reality. As a member of the loosely associated Independent Group, Paolozzi emphasized the impact of technology and mass culture on high art. His use of collage demonstrates the influence of Surrealist and Dadaist photomontage, which Paolozzi implemented to recreate the barrage of mass media images experienced in everyday life.
Hamilton's collage was a seminal piece for the evolution of Pop art and is often cited as the very first work of Pop art. Created for the exhibition This is Tomorrow at London's Whitechapel Gallery in 1956, Hamilton's image was used both in the catalogue for the exhibition and on posters advertising it. The collage presents viewers with an updated Adam and Eve (a body-builder and a burlesque dancer) surrounded by all the conveniences modern life provided, including a vacuum cleaner, canned ham, and a television. Constructed using a variety of cutouts from magazine advertisements, Hamilton created a domestic interior scene that both lauded consumerism and critiqued the decadence that was emblematic of the American post-war economic boom years.
Like many Pop artists, Rosenquist was fascinated by the popularization of political and cultural figures in mass media. In his painting President Elect, the artist depicts John F. Kennedy's face amidst an amalgamation of consumer items, including a yellow Chevrolet and a piece of cake. Rosenquist created a collage with the three elements cut from their original mass media context, and then photo-realistically recreated them on a monumental scale. As Rosenquist explains, "The face was from Kennedy's campaign poster. I was very interested at that time in people who advertised themselves. Why did they put up an advertisement of themselves? So that was his face. And his promise was half a Chevrolet and a piece of stale cake." The large-scale work exemplifies Rosenquist's technique of combining discrete images through techniques of blending, interlocking, and juxtaposition, as well as his skill at including political and social commentary using popular imagery.
Useful Resources on Pop Art
- 36k viewsThe Shock of the New - Pop ArtOur PickArt historian Robert Hughes series - episode 7 - Culture as Nature
- Pop Go the Women The Other Story of Pop ArtBritish historian Alistair Sooke tracks down the forgotten women artists of pop, finding their art and their stories ripe for rediscovery. Artists include Pauline Boty, Marisol, Rosalyn Drexler, Idelle Weber, Letty Lou Eisenhauer, and Jann Haworth
- 713k viewsAndy Warhol Documentary: The Complete PictureOur PickThe definitive, carefully composed, 3 hour documentary on Warhol - and his part in Pop art
- 35k viewsRoy Lichtenstein at the Tate Modern (2013)Our PickOverview of the artist
- 2k viewsJames RosenquistBrief overview by British art critic Alastair Sooke
- 59k viewsClaes OldenburgBrief overview by MoMA
- 414k viewsGerhard RichterGerhard Richter talks about his life and work with Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate
- 797 viewsCritic Christopher Knight @ Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)Our PickProposes that Warhol's subjects are not about popular culture, they are chosen for their very particular, art specific themes
- 1k viewsLeo Castelli: The First Global GalleristOur PickProfessor and historian Annie Cohen-Solal overviews the life and brilliance of Leo Castelli, the gallerist that brought many Pop artists to fame from Rauschenberg to Rosenquist
- Pop Art: A Critical HistoryOur PickBy Steven Henry Madoff
- PopOur PickBy Mark Francis, Hal Foster
- Pop ArtBy Tilman Osterwold
- Pop ArtBy Honnef Klaus, Uta Grosenick
- Tate Movements in Modern Art: Pop ArtBy David McCarthy
- Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy LichtensteinBy Susan Goldman Rubin
- Andy Warhol: Pop Art PainterBy Susan Goldman Rubin
- James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960sBy Michael Lobel
- Pop Art International: Far Beyond Warhol and LichtensteinOur PickA look into the varying international aesthetics of the Pop art movement / By Holland Cotter / The New York Times / February 25, 2016
- Where Are the Great Women Pop Artists?Our PickBy Kim Levin / ARTnews Magazine / November 1, 2010
- Reconfiguring PopOur PickBy Saul Ostrow / Art in American Magazine / September 1, 2010
- TOP OF THE POPS - Did Andy Warhol change everything?Our PickAn extensive look (and investigation) into the life of Andy Warhol, through the context of his personal life and art making practices / By Louis Menand / The New Yorker / January 11, 2010
- The Pop Art EraBy Deborah Solomon / The New York Times / December 8, 2009
- Top Ten ARTnews Stories: The First Word on PopARTnews Magazine / November 1, 2007
- Pop Art Was Part French: Mais Oui! Just Ask ThemBy Alan Riding / The New York Times / April 15, 2001
- The Arts and the Mass MediaOur PickBy Lawrence Alloway / Architectural Design & Construction / February 1958
- James Rosenquist, Pop Art Pioneer, Dies at 83A snapshot of the life, work and inspiration for a Pop art pioneer / By Ken Johnson / The New York Times / April 1, 2017
- The Impact of Pop art on the World of FashionOur PickWideWalls.com / A look at the ways in which Pop art has become a commercialized entity in the Fashion Industry
- Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968Brooklyn Museum 2010 Exhibition
- Pop Art IPhone App that makes portraits look like Andy Warhol's silkscreens