Pop Art / Op Art Unit 10

Spring 1961: a few New York art dealers promoted a new art style featuring a sharp break from pure abstraction and a return to recognizable subject matter.
That subject matter included: soup cans, Coke bottles, street signs, light bulbs, comic-strip characters and movie stars presented in large size and exaggerated detail. Objects were sometimes connected to canvases for 3-D impact. Exhibits and sales were few.

Spring 1963: Gallery of Modern Art (Wash. D.C.) organized a show displaying works of 12 New York "Pop" artists.
("Pop" = "popular"; not that works were popular, but that subjects were taken from popular culture.)
This first major exhibit included a huge pair of pants as well as a painting with an armchair attached. Guests were cautious at first. Then they began to take turns sitting in the chair.  A boy turned on a TV bolted to one canvas and started watching a baseball game; one guest almost got into a fistfight with Jim Dine when he poured Champaign into a sink hooked to one canvas.
Washington Star: "Pop's a flop."
Max Ernst: "Pop art is just some feeble bubbles of flat Coca-Cola which I consider less than interesting and rather sad."
Henry Seldis of The Los Angeles Times: "(Pop) is painting of a sort; it may even be art, but it is certainly poor art."
TIME: "Cult of the commonplace...Pop art has exposed as rarely before the wholesale gullibility of the kind of people who fear that unless they embrace every passing novelty they will some day be labeled Philistine."
The feeling was that mass-produced objects and images of industrial culture were unworthy of serious artistic attention. But Pop artists felt these were uniquely American images of their times. Still, they were surprised when their works sold. When James Rosenquist sold a mural for $1,400 he made joke about not having to pay to store the work.

Spring 1965: Pop art had replaced Abstract Expressionism from many major galleries. Andy Warhol , Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg had obtained in a couple of years more publicity than Abstract Expressionist artists had received in a decade.
Even if public did not understand Pop, they were willing to have fun with it.
During this same period Braniff introduced pastel airliners.
Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake the Magician & Prince Valiant posters were selling by the thousands.
The New York Times: "Pop was rooted in a revival and translation of legitimate values." (John Canaday)
Pop was important as a return to pictorial subject matter.
That same spring (1965) Rosenquist sold 85-foot mural F-111 for $60,000. (There were no jokes this time.)

One reason for the creation of Pop art was that, by the mid-1950s,  many young painters were disillusioned with Abstract Expressionism and frustrated by its limitations: "same set of mannerisms; same viscosities of paint; same ranges of color; same gestures; same kind of picture." (critic Clement Greenberg)

Precursors (Two artists with studios in same NY building):
1) Jasper Johns: flags, targets and numbers
2) Robert Rauschenberg: combines (3-D objects like street signs added to painted canvas)

Common backgrounds of artists who followed Johns and Rauschenberg and began Pop art included:

1) backgrounds in commercial art (from fashion illustrator Warhol to billboard painter Rosenquist)

2) knowledge of what Johns and Rauschenberg were doing

3) fascination with images of popular culture

Society was influenced by television, magazines and street scenes, including the huge animated displays and neon signs of Times square... 22-foot-high face puffing smoke rings for Camel cigarettes and 140-foot-long rooftop waterfall refreshing for Pepsi.

Pop art caught attention of modern art dealers on lookout for something new.  The first gallery owners to exhibit this art were:
1) Leo Castelli (Castelli Gallery) Willem de Kooning said he could sell anything. "He could even sell beer cans." Jasper Johns heard about this statement and made a sculpture of two Ballantine Ale cans in painted bronze; Castelli sold them for a price in the four-figure range.
2) Richard Bellamy (Green Gallery)

They were able to find buyers because major paintings by Pollock were selling for $100,000; minor works for $5,000 to $10,000.

Two early Pop art collectors:
1) Philip Johnson (architect) - "One of the duties of art is to make you look at the world with pleasure. Pop art is the only movement in this century that has tried to do it."
2) Harry Abrams (publisher of high-quality art books) "Too much importance is attached to subject instead of to the art. The difference between what's beautiful and what's ugly depends on the context of our looking at it.  Someone who's never seen a wine bottle or a Coca-Cola bottle would find them equally beautiful. But Cezanne's wine bottle holds a higher key than Warhol’s Coke bottle because we associate one with gracious living and we've seen the other in supermarkets."

Pop art took off once it had the support of dealers and collectors.

Reasons for acceptance:

I) visual nature of society - T. V. ; rapid scanning; visual impressions (pictures rather than words); barrage of separate images (50 in two minutes of commercials); Pop art easy to grasp at a glance

2) attitude of Pop - fit changing life style of 1960s: kitchen appliances not only white but also other colors; cars in brighter and brighter hues; Beatles: fad for trivia

3) engineered by artists themselves - Warhol & Oldenburg big self-promoters; Warhol oversized glasses, white wig, 8-hour films; Oldenburg "happenings"

4) simplicity - extraneous, distracting elements removed; signatures on back

5) basic materials - smooth, glossy like two-dimensional images on TV or in magazines; smoothed away brush strokes; used Silk screening

6) Pop art works seemed anonymous like advertisements; once an artist conceived an idea the rest was almost mechanical; used projectors to blow up their sketches; traced enlarged originals; used gridding, Benday dots

The emphasis was on inspiration or theme and not on execution; once an artist had an idea it became his property:
*brand-name product suspended in mid-canvas = Warhol ; of little value if not done by him
*cartoonlike = Lichtenstein

The movement was finally killed by a flood of less-talented artists trying to "cash in."

By mid-1960s Pop art began to be replaced by Op and Minimal art

Both swung back to abstract but kept anonymity, colors of commercial paints, hard edges and surface brightness.

Op art: (optical) This art movement was based on scientific principles of color and pattern perception. One branch involved a deliberate assault on viewers’ eyes, the other challenged the mind.

Bridget Riley: assault on eyes

M.C. Escher: impossible worlds

More about Pop Art

WWW Pop Art

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Pop Art
Roy Lichtenstein
James Rosenquist
Claes Oldenburg
Andy Warhol

Op Art
Bridget Riley
M.C. Escher