Pop Art: A Brief History
Although Pop Art is primarily associated with its movement in 1960s New York City, the style started in the late 1940s in Great Britain with a group of artists called the Independent Group. Post World War II, younger artists were outgrowing the style of the older, Abstract Expressionists and looking to re-engage the viewer with relatable, approachable imagery that still rejected the traditional form of modernism.
Eduardo Paolozzi’s I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything, collage, 1947; Nigel Henderson’s Head of a Man, photographs on board, 1956
The Independent Group was largely influenced by Dadaism and brought issues of mainstream culture into the debate about fine art representation, putting it at a higher level of study than previously done. Through the early to mid 1950s, this group of artists and intellectuals would meet at the Institution of Contemporary Arts in London to discuss and exhibit work of this nature, setting the wheels in motion for its influence on American artists. Eduardo Paolozzi, a Scottish sculptor and printmaker, was one of the most prominent members of this group and is the first artist to have included the word “pop” in his work I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything from 1947.
Andy Warhol’s Untitled from Marilyn Monroe, screenprint, 1967
Pop artists championed common objects and themes through expressive, abstract, and minimal art. They looked at commercial means of production as opposed to the traditional, “classically trained” studio methods. They used screen printing as a means to mass produce an original artwork. This does not mean that pop artists abandoned the past traditions. Instead, they sought means of linking contemporary culture to references from past art history, as a means to interpret the ironies of everyday life.
Welcome to New York!
Roy Lichtenstein’s The Melody Haunts My Reverie, screenprint, 1965; and Vicki, enamel on steel, 1964
The Pop Art movement as it played out in the 1960s found the height of its influence and popularity in New York City. Key players included the movement’s poster child, Andy Warhol, as well as Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg. The term “pop art” was officially coined in 1962 when New York’s Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition entitled Symposium on Pop Art. In response to the surge of mass advertisements and mass-produced imagery, American artists pumped up the drama and the impact of such imagery. This was often done with bold, primary coloration, imagery at giant-scale, and stylistic re-renderings of advertisements that were arguably more direct than the original ads. Lichtenstein’s cartoon series such as The Melody Haunts My Reverie of 1965 or Vicki of 1964 are great examples.
Beyond New York City
Banner for Tate Modern’s The World Goes Pop Exhibition (September 17, 2015 – January 24 2016) featuring Ushio Shinohara’s Doll Festival, 1966
London’s Tate Modern recently organized the exhibit The World Goes Pop, which presented the story of Pop Art from a global point of view and featured artists from Pop Art’s well documented domains (Great Britain and the US), as well as work from Japanese, Eastern European, Latin American, and Middle Eastern artists who were exploring the representation of mainstream culture in the 1960s and 70s. New York City may have been the heart of the movement, but it pulsed across the globe and allowed artists in less liberal countries to comment upon the contemporary issues of their realities. It reminds us that Pop Art was not just a showcase of western culture, but also a means for other countries to debate their politics, peers, and revolutions.
Detail of Takashi Murakami’s An Homage to Monopink, 1960 B, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 2012
Pop Art elevated interest in and value of graphic art, printmaking, artistic repetition, and pattern-making. It brought commercial art techniques into more traditional studio practices, introdued new tools for expression to a younger generation of artists, and glorified the objects of everyday life. Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami immediately pop to mind as living artists heavily influenced by the pop movement.