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The Pop Environment
on view until July 13, 2008
The Memphis Brooks
Museum of Art is presenting an exciting new exhibition from the permanent
collection entitled The Pop Environment, on view until July 13, 2008.
In the early 1960s, Pop artists began acknowledging and
appropriating imagery from the commercial environment, thereby shattering
the distinction between high and low culture. Artists like Andy Warhol,
Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Allan D'Arcangelo, Jim Dine, and Tom
Wesselmann took their inspiration from comic books, advertisements, newspaper
headlines, film stills, and popular magazines.
This eye-opening exhibition at the Brooks brings together
diverse works, ranging from paintings and photographs to mixed media installations,
which can all be linked to the Pop emphasis on looking beyond the confines
of one's studio for inspiration and guidance.
Whether in Warhol's sage selection of press photographs,
William Christenberry's documentation of signage on Beale Street, Marcos
Lopez's fond portraits of vintage automobiles, or Jenny Holzer's commentary
on the media and advertising, this exhibition underscores the success of
the Pop artists in transforming the perception of the ordinary object to
bring art to our everyday lives.
The Pop Environment was curated
by Chief Curator Marina Pacini and Professor David McCarthy of Rhodes College.
Selected wall texts from the exhibition
- WARHOL: ELECTRIC CHAIRS
- Andy Warhol, generally considered the father of American
Pop Art, produced his Death and Disaster screen paintings from 1962 to
1967. His canonical images
in the series include car accidents, suicides, a mushroom cloud, civil
rights riots, and Jackie Kennedy in Dallas (three examples of which are
in the Brooks Collection). Among the most haunting of the series, however,
are the electric chairs, which he completed as silk screens on both canvas
- Critics disagree as to whether Warhol's art is noncommittal
or political. Certainly capital punishment was one of the most hotly debated
issues in the sixties. After his death, it was discovered that he collected
images from World Wide Photo, a commercial photo archive. Exactly when
he bought the images remains unclear, but all of the electric chair paintings
and prints are based on a photograph that is labeled on the back: "Sing
Sing's Death Chamber. January 13, 1953." The text goes on to note
that this is the chair in which Julius and Ethel Rosenberg will be executed.
This information makes it difficult to view the electric chairs as anything
but a condemnation of governmental power.
- In 1971, Warhol produced a portfolio of ten screen prints
on paper. Much of the original photograph is cropped so that the door with
the ominous Silence sign over it does not appear. Nonetheless, the empty
room with the chair, restraining straps dramatically visible, remains a
disturbing image. Although the vacant chair grimly awaits its next occupant,
the overall effect of the isolated chair, repeated in Warhol's signature
palette of Pop colors, is also highly decorative. It is this dramatic contrast
between engaging visual form and controversial subject matter that fuels
the debates concerning his intentions.
- - by Marina Pacini, Chief Curator
- (right: Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Electric Chair, 1971,
Portfolio of ten silk screens, 232/270, 10 each measuring 35 1/8 x 47 7/8
inches, Signed: verso. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Purchase)
- LICHTENSTEIN: SWEET DREAMS, BABY!
- Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein was known for his paintings,
prints, and installations that re-contextualized imagery
from mass culture. Reacting against Abstract Expressionism, Pop artists
favored an objective approach to painting that was emotionally detached
and removed evidence of the artist's hand from the work of art. Extracting
images from popular culture and reconfiguring them into his work, Lichtenstein
narrowed the distinction between fine and popular art. He adopted comic
book imagery replicating the process and look of manufactured printed pulp
through benday dots, vivid primary hues, text, speech balloons, and thick
- By cropping and removing parts of the original comic
strip composition, Lichtenstein was able to establish formal relationships
based on balance and color. His controlled art-making process is often
juxtaposed with an expressive or emotional moment; for example, aggression
is overtly displayed in Sweet Dreams, Baby! Although the scene is comprised
of two partial figures, the image captures a dynamic and violent moment.
One man's punch, dramatically emphasized through arcing motion lines and
the vibrant "POW!" in bright red capitals, knocks the other man's
head out of the frame. The narrative sequence is suspended-it is unclear
what led to the altercation or what will occur next. Lichtenstein's title
offers an interesting double meaning, as "sweet dreams, baby"
is traditionally an endearing phrase. In this particular context, however,
it suggests a "farewell" to the man who was just hit.
- - by Ana Vejzovic, former assistant curator
- (right: Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), Sweet Dreams, Baby!
from the portfolio 11 Pop Artists, vol. II, 1965, Silk screen 137/200,
27 x 23 inches. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)
- MARISOL: HOLY FAMILY
- In 1967, Robert McKnight, the director of the Brooks,
wrote to Marisol asking her to create a Nativity for the museum. It was
a logical request as Marisol was
internationally recognized for her figural groupings, as exemplified by
the high-profile commissions from Time magazine for portraits of Hugh Hefner
and Bob Hope. Born of Venezuelan parents in Paris, and raised in the United
States and Venezuela, she was well versed in the history of art as well
as South American popular culture. Originally envisioned as a complete
Nativity, the project ended with the three figures of the Holy Family.
- Typical of Marisol's work, the figures are composed of
both abstract and representational elements and a variety of different
media that combine here to create a playful yet moving image of a traditional
art historical subject. Mary and Joseph are formed from block-like wooden
boxes simply painted with flat color. Mary's dress, covered with painted
starbursts surrounded by collaged pieces of glass, places her within the
tradition of highly decorative and ecstatic Latin American images of the
Virgin. Both figures have cast plaster faces, hands, and feet. Marisol,
who repeatedly used self-portraits in her work to explore the roles of
women in society as well as her own identity, is the model for Mary. The
Virgin's holiness is conveyed through multiple means: she floats above
the ground, has a dazzling neon sun for a halo, is dressed in her traditional
blue mantle, and has two left hands bearing rings symbolizing her marriage
to Joseph and God. Her womb is a door that opens to expose a mirror in
which all viewers can see themselves reflected as a part of the Holy Family.
The importance of Jesus, the smallest figure in the scene, is signaled
through the elaborate neon manger; the simplicity of his unpainted body,
almost completely carved of one piece of wood, stands out against the rest
of the brightly colored scene. Marisol blends materials associated with
advertising and commerce, such as neon and Astroturf, with fine art conventions
to produce a complex work that explores the role of women and religion
in contemporary society.
- - by Marina Pacini, Chief Curator
- (right: Marisol (American, b. Paris, 1930), The Family, 1969,
Mixed media: wood, plastic, neon, glass, 88 x 56 x 65 inches. Commissioned
for Brooks Memorial Art Gallery through a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts and matching funding from the Memphis Arts Council, Brooks
Fine Arts Foundation, and Brooks Art Gallery League)
- CHRISTENBERRY: CANNON'S GROCERY
- William Christenberry is inextricably rooted to rural
Alabama, a land of kudzu, red soil, farm buildings, churches, and roadside
stores. Born in Tuscaloosa,
he spent his childhood summers with his grandparents in nearby Hale County.
He received his master's degree from the University of Alabama, taught
at Memphis State University (today the University of Memphis), and currently
teaches at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. Although he works
in many media, including painting, sculpture, installation, and photography,
his subject matter is exclusively southern, reflecting the geography, architecture,
and cultural history of his birthplace.
- Pivotal in his career was his discovery, in 1959, of
James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), which included Walker
Evans' photographs of the Hale County of Christenberry's childhood. He
began to reevaluate his own photographs, which at the time served merely
as a reference for his paintings. After showing his work to Evans and receiving
encouragement, Christenberry began to pursue photography seriously.
- The artist first photographed Cannon's Grocery in 1972
and emphasized its rural locale by including
a glimpse of the surrounding field and the unpaved road. The image is small
but powerful, with the store's vibrant complementary colors echoed in the
blue sky and clay-colored soil. The linear qualities of the building are
repeated through the landscape-the horizontal bands of the grass, the dirt
road, and the horizon. Christenberry also makes sculptures replicating
the rural structures of his Alabama childhood; these miniature-scale models
evoke a sense of nostalgia, bringing to mind boyhood toys and playthings.
He realistically re-creates the appearance of the original building materials
and old signs, and even incorporates actual objects from the site, such
as the bed of Hale County dirt. Paying close attention to minute details,
he reproduces the small tattered advertisements hanging in the windows,
the weathered paint of the building's exterior, and the old door worn from
use. Through his artwork, he immortalizes Cannon's Grocery, a country store
and former hub of rural activity, as a cultural icon reminiscent of an
- - by Karleen Gardner, Curator of Education
- (right: William Christenberry (American, b. 1936), Cannon's Grocery,
1972, Wood, red soil, metal, Plexiglas, illustration board (building) 10
3/4 x 27 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)
- (left:William Christenberry (American, b. 1936), Cannon's Grocery,
1972, Chromogenic coupler print, 3 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches. Memphis Brooks Museum
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