Pop Art, Back Then

Today, we’re delighted to pretend to know about art again.  Here’s our last art riff in case you’re interested in our top 5 New York Art Museums.

Our subject is Pop Art.

If you happen to mention Pop Art to anyone who isn’t an art expert, there is one name, and one name only, that will come up:  Andy Warhol.  He’s become synonimous with the movement in a way that few other artists have come to dominate their milieu.  While I expect that readers of this blog would likely be able to name another (Roy Lichtenstein, most likely), the same can’t be said of the general population.  Today, Pop Art begins and ends with Andy.

Funnily enough, however, it wasn’t always so.  Those familiar with the way art movements evolve will be unornsurprised to learn that the movement began with a series of manifestos and mind-numbingly dull critical assessments, but people who think that Warhol got up one day and began painting soup cans and silk sceening Marilyn might be a bit surprised.

Another surprise is that the movement, far from being an American creation was borin in dreary 1950s Britain.  The very term “Pop Art” was coined by English art critic Lawrence Alloway and the first brushstrokes took place not in New York but across the Atlantic.

That situation was soon corrected and the movement did find its spiritual home in New York, but The Factory and its eccentric ringmaster, though influential, were not considered central by the critics of the time.  In fact, he was more likely to be mentioned as one more among the notable New York practitioners of the style.

Pop Art - Lucy R. Lippard

A good primer to see this attitude in action is in Lucy R. Lippard’s Pop Art.  This tome was originally published in 1966 and gives a wonderful look at the movement as it happened.  Is it perfect?  No.  It’s a bit dry and eminently academical (back then people who wrote art essays apparently didn’t feel the need to make them attractive to a general audience), but it does the job as a first approach, and is especially useful to those who see an image of Soup Cans whenever the term “Pop Art” is mentioned.

What I particularly like about this book is that, after taking a longish chunk of text to tell us about the British roots and American precursors to the movement, it only stops in New York for a couple of chapters before jumping to California and back to Europe and other places.  It really puts things in perspective.

After reading thism, it’s amazing how Warhol’s name and work have transcended the pasage of years while his peers – many more critically respected than he was – are now invisible outside of certain museums.  I personally like Lichtenstein more than Warhol, albeit for all the wrong reasons (nostalgia for a time I never knew, mainly) but even he has been overshadowed by the man synonimous with their movement.

Yeah. It’s safe to say that Andy’s the last man standing and that he is having the last laugh.  In fact, looking at his work, one suspects that, under that serious demeanor, he was laughing the whole while.

And I still love the way he was depicted in Men in Black 3.


Gustavo Bondoni, apart from blogging about art also writes funny novels about Greek heroes and giant sea serpents.  The Malakiad can be purchased here (paperback) and here (kindle ebook).


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