Richard Hamilton, the pop of Pop Art, lived a great life reaching back to the Dada of Marcel Duchamp and looking forward to fun future for art. This is not an obituary – there is an excellent one in The Guardian. Considering the life of Richard Hamilton lead me to thinking about Pop Art and, in particular the impact of Pop Art in Australia.
Maybe Pop Art first came to Australia with Martin Sharp. Maybe it was here already with Barry Humphries 1968 screenprint of the infinite regression of Willie Wheaties on a cereal package (but Barry thought it was Dada when he did it). In the 1990s Howard Arkley’s celebrated the images of Melbourne suburbia with spray paint. And there are still many artists in Australia doing Pop Art including David Bromley, HaHa Maria Kozic, Christopher Langton, Dennis Roper and David Wadelton. Melbourne even has a Pop Art sculpture, “The Public Purse” by Simon Perry in the Burke St. Mall. The sculpture is based on Claes Oldenberg’s idea making giant sculpture versions of everyday objects.
If Pop Art is about the art of ironically sampling the visual clutter of the modern world then it is definitely still here and bigger than before. The cultural influences celebrated by Pop Art; rock music, celebrities, advertising and pop media images, have continued and even expanded in our society. Pop Art ended the division between high arts and popular arts; it looked at the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse as equally recognizable images. Artists like Jeff Koons were clearly continuing the techniques and imagery associated with Pop Art in the 1980s and 90s. Pop Art might now be so big that we might not be able to see it anymore because it almost completely fills our vision. Is street art, especially Bansky and all the other stencil artists, another part of Pop Art?
Was Pop Art just another one of the modern art’s “isms”? Has the style bubble burst with a snap, crackle and pop. Is Pop Art a dead, historical art movement? Or has it continued as major movement in the contemporary world? In a narrow sense Pop Art, Neo-Realism, Capitalist Realism, whatever you want to call it, is a defined movement in art history from the 1950s and 60s. But the style continues – the art history books that we grew up with got it wrong. When a future history of 20th – 21st art is written where will Pop Art be located? There are precursors to Pop Art in Dada and clear decedents still making Pop Art today.
But this might just part of the long tail of Pop Art, like the long tail of Impressionism, where the style became more commercialised and the domain of amateur landscape artists. Pop Art is incredibly popular; that isn’t tautological, Pop Art could be unpopular. Pop Art is popular because it is fun and recognizable, it doesn’t threaten, it isn’t seen as ugly. And this popularity has made features of Pop Art into a kind of folk art and a design style.
However Pop Art is a significant art style not just for art history; it also caused major thinking of the philosophy. Pop Art provoked responses by philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic: Arthur Danto and Jean Baudrillard. Both philosophers were deeply impressed by Andy Warhol’s art. For Danto Pop Art raised issues about what art is and for Baudrillard about reality and simulacra.
Pop Art half a century later and still wow.