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Art History Primer: Pop Art Part 1



Written by Matthew Patterson, Visitor Services Associate

“Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again.  And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.”   – Andy Warhol

As the name implies, the ‘Pop’ art movement was interested largely in popular culture and the imagery it produced.  Emerging as a response to Abstract Expressionism; Pop rejected deep personal meaning and instead embraced the superficial, the commonplace and the banal.  Advertisements, celebrities, and household objects were all acceptable subject matter during this movement.

Although Pop became the dominant art form of the 1960’s its origin can be traced back to the seminal exhibition “This is Tomorrow”, which took place in London in 1956.  At this show Richard Hamilton’s Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different so appealing? was first displayed.  Hamilton’s use of mass reproduced images in addition to his sense of irony in representing the ideal home (he was living in a Britain still recovering from World War II) makes this work one of the earliest examples of the Pop movement.  America meanwhile was developing its own version of Pop which came to the forefront in the 1962 exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum “New Painting of Common Objects” which featured future stars of the movement Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, and Wayne Thiebaud.

While all of them would go on to have successful careers it was Warhol who became the house hold name.  Having begun his career as a commercial artist, Andy Warhol was able to translate this experience into the realm of fine art by implementing silkscreen printing into his paintings; a technique normally reserved for advertising.  His early work focused on reproducing everyday objects such as coke bottles, dollar bills, soup cans, etc.  Later stages of his career focused on his social circle and his own growing celebrity as he made paintings of movie stars and heads of state.  In the end Warhol was nearly as good a business man as he was an artist, turning his art into as much a commodity as the objects he’d painted during his career.

In the world of contemporary art the unofficial heir to Andy Warhol’s legacy may be Jeff Koons.  He too has made a career in reproducing low-brow objects in a fine art setting.  Balloon animals, inflatable toys, Easter eggs and cartoon characters regularly make appearances in his work.  Even as a business man he has surpassed his predecessor with his works selling in the tens of millions; a staggering feat for a living artist.  However, despite the appearance of irony in his work, Koons himself has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques; this perhaps in an effort to distance himself from the label of Pop artist.

As a movement in art, Pop is not only important historically because it informs us about the time in which it was made but also because many of the issues these artists were dealing with are still present today and being addressed by artists working now.  For greater insight into Pop, Jacksonville is lucky enough to have two exhibitions opening this month with great examples of the genre.

MOCA Jacksonville’s  ReFocus: Art of the 1960’s presents a survey of art from this period of radical change and growth in America.  Pop artists represented here include Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Also this Month here at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens we have our exhibition 50 Forward: New Additions to the Permanent Collection opens on January 31st featuring several new purchases in honor of our 50th anniversary including the work of Andy Warhol.

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Director of Art Education

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