Pop of Pop

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.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

4 responses to “Pop of Pop

  • CDH

    Pop art is the equivalent of reality TV: lowest common denominator. The problem is that pop-artists like Warhol and Koons always seem more interested in being celebrities and making money, rather than making meaningful art. Pop art reappears in street art, to its detriment. Stencils of famous faces have become overused into meaninglessness. Mixing pop and street art gives us MBW.

    Also, remember that Banksy has been quite anti-pop. I’m thinking of the Paris Hilton prank and the way he writes about the Che Guevara image in ‘Wall and piece’. There’s also the way he maintains his anonymity. I can’t really imagine Warhol or Koons quietly hiding in the shadows while their art sits in the spot light.

    • Mark Holsworth

      I think that you might be confusing popular arts with Pop Art and/or popular Pop artists as representative of the whole of Pop Art. Pop art often takes a critical look at the modern, consumer culture, for example Richard Hamilton’s “Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing?” or James Rosenquist’s “F111” that looks at war as part of consumer culture. Sure not all Pop Art is that critical but even Warhol made the Electric Chair, Car Crash and Disaster series. And not forgetting HaHa’s Ned Kelly stencil that digs at the Australian iconic outlaw and the outlaw status of the street artist.

      I see Banksy’s anonymity as an obvious form of celebrity branding in itself – something for the journalists to write about. (Warhol once sent an actor to do a lecture as Warhol, and the whole idea of Warhol as a celebrity a bit of a prank by Warhol in itself because he was so obviously not a suitable person to be a celebrity – but the celebrity artist is a whole other story.) As for Banksy’s images they are perfectly Pop Art and as marketable as a Warhol soupcan screenprint (both make good t-shirt images too).

      Sure, as I wrote, Pop Art can become a kind of folk art and there are plenty of works of Pop Art, in galleries and on the street, that aren’t good art; some are simply plagiarism and copyright theft as Koons found out.

  • CDH

    I think your description of street art as a kind of folk art is a very good one. Street art has become a kind of cultural practice. The obvious thing that springs to mind is that the appeal of folk art is that it’s provincial. Street art is global, so it doesn’t have that same appeal.

    I take your point on pop art, but I still feel like pop art is always having a conversation that I’m not particularly interested in. It’s seems so focused on consumption. Today the pop discussion on consumption has been so dominated by the left that I could revolutionise it simply by saying ‘consumption is good’. There are 2 ways you can affect broad change in society; voting and consumer choice. Consumption is necessary and a tool for affecting change. But the conversation is endlessly ‘consumption is bad’, ‘corporations are bad’ etc.

    My brother made the comment ‘pop-art has become pop’: these arguments don’t go anywhere. They’ve just become a hollow icon of them self.

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Mark Holsworth

      What I mean by “folk art” is art that folk do, not because they are artists or have studied art, but because it is part of a kind of cultural practice. And my point was that Pop Art had become a folk art with street artists, people down at the local photoprint shops putting an Andy Warhol filter on a canvas portrait print, etc. that it is part everyday cultural practice. I think that there are many kinds of new folk arts from the garage bands to hip hop graffiti, successful mutants that have gone on to colonize the world because they are more successful at filling a niche than the indigenous folk art that must either adapt or be preserved in a kind of cultural sanctuary. Not all cultural systems of symbols are relatively equal, for example, Arabic numerals are better than Roman numerals for most numerical applications (aside from aesthetics, anachronisms and other odd examples) and so Arabic numerals are now global.

      Pop Art, even as a folk art on the streets provided an aesthetic that could be used to, at least discuss, issues of consumption and brands. It is the aesthetics of the modern iconoclasts who do the culture jamming – but that is for another blog post.

      The superficiality of Pop Art is ironically very honest and critical of the pretense at being real, authentic, deep, emotionally raw etc. And this lack of any deeper content to Pop Art is a deeply critical depiction of the modern world.

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