Joslyn Art Museum

Omaha, NE



The Great American Pop Art Store: Multiples of the Sixties


Not since the early 1970s have so many rarely displayed American Pop Art objects - more than 100 works - been assembled in one exhibition devoted to a movement that so strongly influenced beliefs about the nature of art. Featuring the work of seventeen of the world's most significant Pop Artists of the 1960s, The Great American Pop Art Store: Multiples of the Sixties win be on view at Joslyn Art Museum from October 23 through January 2, 2000

Artists featured in the exhibition include Allan D'Arcangelo, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist, Edward Ruscha, Lucas Samaras, George Segal, Wayne Thiebaud, Ernest Trova, Andy Warhol , Robert Watts and Tom Wesselmann.

A one-of-a-kind exhibition, The Great American Pop Art Store features wonderful, wacky, Pop Art "multiples" created in the Sixties (predominantly from 1965-1969) with the hope of making new art accessible to a broader public. While the "multiple" was perceived as an art form that would "sell," and consequently find its way into the homes of many instead of just a few select galleries, it was also looked upon by many artists as an art form that allowed for experimentation with industrial art-making techniques (industrial technologies such as vacuum-forming, welding, and chrome-plating were widely available in Post-War America). Some artists found the "multiple" to be especially conducive to cultural or political commentary as well.

Mass fabrication of an object or work helps to identify it as a multiple. Multiples are not intended to exist as one-of-a-kind works of art, but rather as editions - in unlimited or predetermined quantities - of an original. When an "original" model for a planned multiple was created, that piece was never considered more than just a pattern for the reproductions that followed. With multiples, each copy is equal in value to every other copy - and equal in value to the pattern piece.

While the idea of multiples is not new to this century, Marcel Duchamp is considered the father of the modern multiple. In 1913, he demonstrated the way in which everyday objects could become art when he put a bicycle wheel and a stool together and called it The Bicycle Wheel (a work he then reproduced three times). This, and other examples of Duchamp's "Readymade" art, demonstrated the way in which common objects became art when reordered. For Duchamp, art was not the objects themselves but rather the ideas behind their arrangement. His duplication of The Bicycle Wheel also made his point that "multiple" art objects possess equal value in relation to one another. In line with Duchamp's thinking, other European artists tended to create similar, highly-conceptual multiples, with the idea behind the object considered vastly more important than the object itself.

In late 1950s, the stage was set for the rise of the American Pop Art multiple, differing from the European multiple in its open, playful, and participatory style. Young new artists began to turn to the country's cultural environment for artistic inspiration, and they were heavily influenced by the strong presence of the media. Billboards, cartoons, comic books, and newspaper and magazine advertisements were everywhere, and clearly influenced the styles and work of Pop artists, as did the country's renewed interest in the art of printmaking. American Pop Art objects also feature everday images and icons of the time - a noted example is Andy Warhol's use of images of Marilyn Monroe.

The Pop Art "revolution" began in America in 1958, with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and their debut shows at the new Castelli Gallery in Manhattan. Larry Rivers, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and George Segal had all shown their work in New York galleries, but none were Pop Artists yet. Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann, Claes Oldenburg, and Jim Rosenquist were all just arriving in New York from the Midwest. As art and everyday life began to intermingle more and more, these artists became intrigued by this Pop lifestyle with its highly-social installations and "Happenings" and its emphasis on consumer culture.

In 1961 and 1962, Claes Oldenburg was first to explore the idea of art as an everyday product when he presented a project entitled The Store in his New York studio. The project featured brightly-painted objects such as stockings, dresses, shirts, shoes, pies, chocolates, and ice cream sandwiches made of muslin, plaster, and chicken wire. Oldenburg's The Store not only put forth the idea of the 'art store," it also suggested the types of objects that, by 1965, would be created in abundance by other Pop Artists. [left: Claes Oldenburg, The Store, Dec. 1, 1961 - Jan. 31, 1962, Ray Gun Mfg. Co., 107 East Second Street, New York (in cooperation with Green Gallery, New York.)]

And as Oldenburg was instrumental in defining the nature of American Pop Art, it was Andy Warhol's serial originals that influenced the rise of the American Pop Art multiple. His early-1960s hand-painted pictures of Campbell's Soup cans and his use of silkscreening to create, for example, countless grocery cartons (the work entitled Brillo Boxes) were excellent examples of the possibility of editions (and ultimately, Warhol's studio name - The Factory - also hinted at the importance of commercial exchange to the rise of Pop Art in America).

Most American Pop Art multiples were created between 1965 and 1969, with artists following the example of objects in Oldenburg's The Store and Warhol's early 1960s "editioned" projects, but also influenced by the founding of the Betsy Ross Flag and Banner Company in New York A New York newspaper strike (from December 1962 to April 1963) led Robert Graham of New York's Graham Gallery to commission an outdoor flag company to produce colorful banners he could hang outside of his gallery to advertise upcoming shows. The Pop designs received great attention, and Graham, art consultant/framemaker Barbara Kulicke, and partner Sonny Sloan formed the Betsy Ross Flag and Banner Company after the newspaper strike was over to create more of the vibrant, artist-designed banners (20 editions each of 45 separate banner designs). These editioned banners highlighted the concept of the "multiple" and heralded a new attitude in America toward the originality of unlimited editions.

By the mid-1960s, Pop artists had become superstars, and many collaborated on an exhibition called The American Supermarket held at the Bianchini Gallery in New York from October 6 to November 7, 1964. The exhibition featured everything from chrome cabbages, wax tomatoes, and plaster leaves of pumpernickel bread by Robert Watts; cakes, cookies, and candies by Claes Oldenburg; a 3-D turkey by Tom Wesselmann; and an entire case of handpainted wax "meats." Roy Lichtenstein's image of a turkey and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup can image were silkscreened on shopping bags which sold for $2 - a true "American Pop Art Store."

Pop Art objects included in the exhibition The Great American Pop Art Store are presented within their historical context and range from Oldenburg's cast resin baked potato to Warhol's soup cans and wallpaper. These upbeat Pop Art objects were frequently put to practical use, becoming an integral part of everyday life. People served meals on Roy Lichtenstein's dishes; Oldenburg's cast-plaster cake was "served" to guests at weddings; Warhol's shopping bags, featuring his signature Campbell's soup can image, were carried about town (not all Pop Art objects could be used, however - take, for example, Robert Watts' etched "dollar bills" which came to be known as Pop Currency"). These and other inventive products challenged the assumptions that the more rare an art object the greater its quality and that a significant work had to be produced by the hand of the artist (it was common, in fact, for a Pop artist to conceive an idea for an object while the multiples themselves were created by an assistant). These Pop Art objects set the stage for the time when artists would design everything from dinnerware to carpets to table lamps.

Ironically, because Pop Art objects were often practical, and most often moderatly priced and relatively expendable, they were used and, sometimes, used up. As a result, Pop Art objects are' surprisingly rare and expensive today. The Great American Pop Art Store premiered in Long Beach, CA at the University Art Museum, California State University in August of 1997. Other venues include Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ); The Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD); Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (Montgomery, AL); Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis, MN); Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, TX); Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, KS); Muskegon Museum of Art (Muskegon, MI); Joslyn Art Museum; Lowe Art Museum (Coral Gables, FL); and The Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, OH).

The Great American Pop Art Store: Multiples of the Sixties is a traveling exhibition organized and curated by Constance W. Glenn with Linda Albright-Tomb for the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach. The exhibition, tour, and catalogue are made possible, in part by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information on multiples, please see columnist Ann Avery Andres' article on California Legal Requirements When Selling "Multiples" (9/4/99)

Read more about the Joslyn Art Museum in Resource Library

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/1/10

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