POP I have GOT….

POP Art (PA) holds a mirror to the Contemporary World (CW), witty, humorous. Polemical or otherwise.

It started narrowly (aimed at Consumerism), but like the beanstalk grew and grew, swallowing everything/anything.

It melted any boundaries between Art and the CW.

BUT the idea is NOT original, is the logical implication of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, circa 1918.

Thus the Universe is to Big Bang as PA is to Duchamp’s Fountain et al.


(SEE the current show at Art Gallery NSW. Excellent. Ends 1ST March 2015)

Anyone can POP……..

14 12 07sun 1627pm plugger 8297 sm

PS: who is the artist far right?


  1. Essence

First, it is not original, rather the logical outcome, implication of Marcel Duchamp (MD)’s “readymades” circa WW1, like the Bicycle Wheel erected in his studio 1913, his Bottle Rack of 1914, LHOOQ (Mona Lisa con moustache) of 1919 and OF COURSE his Fountain (aka Urinal) of 1917, signed R Mutt. Interesting metaphors too?

MD the Cuban (cigar) addicted Supernova of creativity.

Thus MD seeded 60s High POP as did Giotto seed the High Renaissance.

Though Duchamp’s Anti-art motivation was quite different to POP’s diverse polemics.

Second, POP holds a witty mirror to the Contemporary World (CW), polemical or otherwise. It started in England with a take on Consumerism, but grew, exploded in the US, the Mother Country, and grew to comment widely, diversely.

Third, in terms of physical art expression anything goes. PA melted, erased the boundaries between Art, the Art establishment and the CW.

Thus fourth, it gained wide appeal because the art related directly, blatantly to the world inhabited by viewers / consumers / clients.

Fifth, history. The style was born in England early/mid 1950s, but it took off, erupted in the US in the early 60s, ie in the large buoyant turbulent beating heart of the CW, giving us High POP.

And just as US wealth ardently fuelled demand for the Abstract Expressionists a decade earlier so it powered demand for Pop Art. Irony there, the beast they poked and often berated fed them, sometimes “obscenely”!

And still does. Half a century later we remain in its pervasive grip, in now what we can call Post POP, epitomised say by Jeff Koons.

  1. The evolution of POP Art?

In some serious arm waving we can see M Duchamp during WW1 seeding 1960s High POP, about 40 years later, as did Giotto around 1300 seed the High Renaissance two centuries later (after an entertaining relapse following the Black Death)?

And maybe now the Post POP of say Jeff Koons is to High POP as was the Baroque to the High Renaissance (HR)?!

Thus the Baroque was the HR adapted / harnessed to a Cause, a Mission – ie the post-Reformation Catholic Church resurgent – but with feeling, emotion, though there was also a ‘secular’ component, more in northern Europe.

And the Cause that is Jeff Koons (JK)? HIMSELF?! Narcissism, decadent, self-indulgent? Gone are the anguished polemics, now it’s just for Fun and Jeff .

Thus JK content is: (1) LARGE, (2) garish, gaudy, flash, Kitsch, attention craving, (3) swallows some celebrities, like Michael Jackson (as of course did Warhol, shamelessly), (4) not obviously polemical or message-laden? It is what it is.

  1. POP Art and Abstract Expressionism

Was POP Art (PA) a reaction to Abstract Expressionism (AE)?

Not necessarily? It was just art moving on.

AE is what it is, vigorous abstraction born in the confusion after the devastation of WW2 – the SECOND catastrophe in a generation – and drawing for many of the artists on Surrealist roots.

PA was spawned by its own and different contemporary context, ie a focus not on the afterglow of a catastrophe but now on the ubiquitous results of the (largely unexpected?) sustained post WW2 rapid economic growth, spawning historically unparalleled affluence, mass consumerism etc. And then beyond economics it soon responded to wider social and political symptoms, like the sexual revolution, and then the Vietnam War.

So PA was not a conscious or deliberate reaction to AE? However its clear comprehensible visual image content was obviously a refreshing change from whatever the inherently subjective “intellectual”, obscure AE images meant. A fertile contrast.

  1. Subjects

Its ambit started narrow, aimed at popular consumer culture.. images from advertising, comics.

But it soon grew to encompass the whole Contemporary World, everything / anything: economic, social, political. Eg Christopher Allen’s nub (“The Australian”, 22nd November 2014): “What pop reveals is the nightmare of cultural noise that fills the head of modern men and women: images of consumer products, advertising slogans, insidious sociopolitical programming, the kitsch of mass music and films… reveals a deadening alienation from nature… consumer society intoxicated with the power of technology and convinced the good life can be bought..” Boy. I need a strong Belgian beer.

Yes it became overtly political, polemical. Chasing Causes! Initially the consumer society, but then the full panoply of Evils of Capitalism. Including the environment, hence no doubt, CC, Climate Change.

The pathologies of contemporary consumer capitalism!? And then the Vietnam War.

But is this not selective indignation by the “Left”? Not one brushstroke, one spray can for.. the 45 years of repression of East Europe by the Soviets in the name of the Socialist Ideal. Or North Korea? OR Mao’s appalling toll in the PR of China! No only fashionable “Left” causes need apply.


The subjects. (1) mass consumer goods, the banal, everyday, ‘readymade’ goods, referring back to Dada and Duchamp; (2) media promotion of goods, esp advertising TV / films.; (3) consumption of all media! First films, then add TV, now add the internet and delivery via Smart phones; (4) hectic intense pace of life, queues / waiting, commuting! (5) detachment / alienation from man’s traditional archaic daily life; (6) focus / commodification of celebrities! Eg especially Warhol with Monroe and Presley! (7) politics! Esp Viet War.


  1. Method

The art object.

The means of physical artistic expression broadened far beyond Oil on Canvas, so that ultimately art images / objects dissolved any boundaries between Art and the MW, dissolved boundaries between High and Low art?

Toilet seat to puppy dog to spaceship.

Main Street invaded the galleries. Anything goes…. “paintings” (now all kinds supports and all kinds of color application), collages, assemblages, sculptures, objects of any kind. An innovation was use of screen printing, versus traditional painting. Eg Warhol’s silk screens.

So anything, any expression of the MW, could be “art”.

Art as Arthur C Danto wrote is whatever you want it to be.

So the idea, the intention, the message…. is more important than the art work itself. So technical skill in implementing the art work is not an issue.


Expressing the artist’s goal.

The best art needs an angle, a twist, a hook to snare the customer.

Artists used irony, parody, satire, humour, wit, Kitsch.


  1. Goal / aim?

Two poles:

  1. Nothing! Beyond the image, the object. It is what it is.
  2. Polemical indignation, a blunt unsubtle message. From Anti-Capitalism to breastfeeding to plight of the honey bee.
  1. Reception?

PA mystified many, most? As did all the other Modern movements when they arrived?

And it divided critics too? Eg Harold Rosenberg. For example PA was “scorned for its low brow focus”. But the problem for these critics was that many had invested strong critical acclaim in the sharply different Abstract Expressionist (AE) movement.

But it took root, mainly because it WORKED, because it said something the viewers easily understood, especially PA’s clear strident umbilical connection with the world they all lived in. This was not some invitation to reflect upon abstruse abstraction.

  1. Chronology / evolution / faces (work in progress)

“Proto-Pop” started well before WW2, especially with Duchamp’s “readymades”, and Kurt Schwitters collages! Then sometimes the Surrealists, eg Magritte and Dali (cf Mae West, Lips sofa, Lobster).

However Duchamp’s purpose was Anti-art, offering a rude gesture to Establishment Art in the context of a calamitous breakdown in the civilisation which spawned it.

Also signs emerged in the US in the 1920s among the “Realists”, like Charles Demuth and Stuart Davis, even Edward Hopper. Mundane realism, using daily objects.

And like Pop this art was more accessible compared to Cubism.

The specific origins were in Europe, early as c 1950, reacting to US led consumerism, esp Eduardo Paolozzi (P), I was a Rich Man’s Plaything of 1947!! Shown in London 1952 as part of the Independent Group (IG) show. EP created a series of collages, “found objects”, called Bunk! Which he created Paris 1947-49! And a clear precursor to Pop. John McHale used the term “pop art” in 1954? Or was it Lawrence Alloway? Thence the Second Session of IG in 1955. Richard Hamilton’s collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? is famous, shown at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s “This is Tomorrow” in 1956,vwhich Alloway helped organise. He wrote an important relevant essay in a 1958 issue of Architectural Digest, speaking of “mass popular art”. The 1961 Young Contemporaries Exhibition in the UK was important. David Hockney emerged (and 1963 he was off to the US, met Warhol), also Billy Apple, (Sir) Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Allen Jones, (American) RB Kitaj, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. In 1964 the New Generation show was held at Whitechapel Gallery.

UK PA was ‘less brash, kitschy, more romantic, nostalgic’? More cerebral?

But PA really took off in US in the early 1960s, ie in the Mother Country, the vanguard of Western Capitalism. In US this art was generally bolder, ‘hard edged’, vigorous.

Perhaps too the US exponents were more competitive, “nationalistic”, saw the US as the natural home for this art?

In US it was led by Jasper Johns (flags, targets and numbers, first one man show 1958, in New York), and R Rauschenberg’s collages from around 1955, through the late 1950s, called “neo-Dada” by some. And Ray Johnson.

Apparently some/many of the US PA artists cited Abstract Expressionist de Kooning as an important influence?

But the BIG take off was in the early 60s US, East and West Coasts, at shows 1960 and 1961. Then came the famous 31st Oct 1962 NY show at the Sidney Janis Gallery (“International Exhibition of the New Realists”), de Kooning’s agent. At drinks afterwards de Kooning was given the flick! Later Rothko, R Motherwell, A Gottlieb, and Philip Guston all left! But SJ gained a bunch of the new guys. And West Coast, also autumn 1962, at Pasadena saw “The New Painting of Common Objects”. Then came the Dec 1962 “Symposium on PA” at MOMA, and the big 1963 Guggenheim show in NY, curated by Alloway, and the big 1968 show “Sao Paulo 9 Exhibition etc”. Private galleries also keenly promoted it.

Among the artists there is great variety, diversity.

Artists included Jim Dine (eg NeoDada, collages, readymades, happenings), Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. Also Robert Indiana (aka John Clark!), who used words in pictures, eg Love!? Alan Katz. Ed Ruscha. Tom Wesselmann. Roy Fox Lichtenstein, especially comic images using parody, humour. Andy Warhol was more direct, in your face.

Claes Oldenburg included performances, “happenings”. Large replicas of everyday things. Burgers, ice creams.

Elsewhere. Also in Spain, Japan, Italy. Belg. Neth. Called Nouvelle Realisme in Europe. France (eg Yves Klein).

And then from 1990s Neo-POP spawned Jeff Koons as one man industry.

And assiduous self-promotion was not uncommon, eg Warhol. Now Koons. But that was nothing new, cf Dali between wars!


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