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Pop!

by Sean M. Ulmer and Carole McNamara

(above: Roy Lichtenstein, American (United States), 1923-1997, Finger Pointing, from The New York Collection for Stockholm: 30 Artists, 1973, silkscreen on wove paper. Gift of Mr. Robert Rauschenberg 1976/2.118. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein)

Primarily associated with American artists in the 1960s, Pop art as a formal movement actually began in Britain in the mid 1950s, named for its reliance on popular culture for its imagery. Advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, and current events all served as rich fodder for the Pop artist. The term "Pop Art" was probably first coined by British critic Lawrence Alloway who later reflected that "the area of contact was mass-produced urban culture: movies, advertising, and science fiction. We felt none of the dislike of commercial culture standard among most intellectuals, but accepted it as fact, discussed it in detail, and consumed it enthusiastically." British artist Richard Hamilton, himself an eloquent theorist on the emerging movement, described it this way in 1957: "Pop art is popular (designed for a mass audience), transient (short-term solution), expendable (easily forgotten), low-cost, mass-produced, young (aimed at youth), witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business."

While works that anticipated the Pop art movement (by referencing everyday objects, for example) were being made in the 1950s by artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Pop artists from different schools and in different locations in the U.S. worked in relative isolation as late as 1962. Landmark exhibitions in New York and Philadelphia in 1962 and 1963 were pivotal in defining the Pop movement in America and bringing the movement's core group of artists-including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, and Tom Wesselmann-into the public eye. While no shared program or manifesto linked them as a group, many Pop artists saw themselves as breaking away from the Abstract Expressionist movement, with its strong, expressive application of paint and its focus on the artistic persona. Instead, many Pop artists used hard-edged graphic techniques and styles to realize their works and to explore ideas related to mass production and the relationship between everyday life and "high" art.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Pop artists adopted some of the tenets of previous twentieth-century art movements such as Cubism, Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism, but despite these possible influences on Pop artists, the work that was created from 1955 through the early 1970s was something completely new. Comic books, mass-circulation magazines, Hollywood celebrities, television, and the fruits of the post-war economic boom were all source material for addressing such issues as class, political change, and consumer culture. Whether they were borrowing from popular culture in a celebratory, satirical, or ambiguous manner, leading Pop artists were united in their ability to encourage a fresh look at the contemporary scene and deliver a sometimes shocking new perception of the visual, cultural, and commercial icons of the moment.

Selections from UMMA's impressive holdings of Pop prints and drawings will be augmented in the exhibition by paintings and other works from noted public and private collections, including important loans from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in New York. The variety and complexity of the Pop art movement will be explored through more than one hundred works of art, including pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, and British artists Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi. Pop! offers viewers an opportunity to trace the invigorating, challenging, and unexpected ways in which artists responded to the heady mixture of new technologies, economic prosperity, emerging social movements and changing notions of what constitutes art.

About the authors

Sean M. Ulmer is University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Carole McNamara is Senior Curator of Western Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

 

RL Editor's note: The exhibition Pop! will be held at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 5 to September 25, 2005. The exhibition is made possible in part by Borders Group, the Office of the Provost of the University of Michigan, Michigan Radio and Michigan Television, The Ann Arbor News, the State Street Area Association, the Kerrytown District Association, the Main Street Area Association, and the Friends of the Museum of Art.

RL readers may also enjoy:

and this video:

Roy Lichtenstein (Portrait of an Artist) is a 49 minute video directed by Chris Hunt and produced in 1991 by Iambic Productions for RM Arts; London Weekend Television; RM Arts. The artist talks about his use of cartoon images, his homage to art history, and his magnified brush strokes theme.

 

 

 

rev. 11/4/05

 

 

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