Tag Archives: Pop Art

MOMA is Overrated

There is a notice in the legal notice in foyer stating that 1200 people in MOMA is “dangerous and illegal”. It must have been approaching those numbers on the day that I visited. There were so many people at MOMA crowding around those must see works of art and taking photos on their mobile phones that I had to consider the following questions:

If mass population is the definition of lowbrow then has MOMA made some modern art lowbrow? For example, has The Scream become lowbrow? (There is art in MOMA that has not become lowbrow, there were very few people looking at the works by Joseph Beuys.)

The Scream at MOMA

“I don’t know how I feel about my selfie right now.”
—overheard at the Museum of Modern Art in the room with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (Hyperallergic 17/5/13)

Does the game of life now score according to what photos you have on your iPhone? The 1001 works of art/buildings/places that you must see before you die. Do not do any of the 101 things you must do before you die because everyone else is doing them. Thousands of tourists trapped at Machu Picchu in late Jan 2010 and thousands more tourists line up to see Michelangelo’s David. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to find a great artist who you have never heard of before?

MOMA is in a cultural feedback loop of its own construction since has MOMA defined modern art through its collection. The howl of this feedback loop echoes through Munch’s Scream and the packed galleries of MONA. “The accounts of the past are constructed out of facts gathered with the express purpose of bolstering this proposition, whose truth has become axiomatic. The accent is placed on the idea that New York art was crucial to the further development of all art the world over and, further, that it somehow emerged from the final phase of the long march towards a purified modern art. These histories of course subscribe to the formalist analysis proposed by Alfred Barr of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, an analysis championed by Clement Greenberg throughout his career.” (Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art Chicago, 1983, p.7)

The second floor of MOMA does have contemporary art exhibited but this is a limited space. I enjoyed contemporary art more in at the New Gallery in the Bowery, the National Gallery of Canada or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was a better atmosphere to appreciate the art and the collections of contemporary art are just as good if not better.

MOMA starts modern art in the 1880s with Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh and ends it in the 1980s, rather arbitrary points, as modern art clearly started earlier and probably ended sooner. And there are some other serious gaps in MOMA’s collection, or at least the works on display. There no Basquiat and nothing from the Harlem Renaissance making me wonder if MOMA ignores black artists? It is all very white (see my upcoming post on European Art History’s Audience) except for the galley attendants who could probably trash any other gallery’s attendants in a game of basketball. There seemed to be other gaps in their German and English collection for example no Francis Bacon and no Neue Sachlichkeit paintings.

Claes Oldenburg's Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

I did enjoy the Claes Oldenburg exhibition that was on when I visited. I was particularly interested in the way that his Store works anticipated the contemporary interest in the “graffiti” and the “street”; these words were repeated in many of his works. But otherwise MONA is not a museum that I would consider visiting again, it is over-rated and over-crowded.

MOMA is not the most over-rated art museum that I have seen in this world; that honour must go MONA in Hobart. If MOMA is a greatest all time #1 hits compilation album then MONA in Hobart is a heavy metal compilation. (See my post on MONA.)


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.

David Bromley in magazines

David Bromley is a notable Australian pop artist, 3 times Archibald Prize finalist, whose paintings are in state and regional gallery collections. His paintings typically feature children by the seaside both from 1950s and ‘60s children’s book illustrations or bare breasted nymphets. His use of gold and silver leaf on the nudes adds more glamour. Bromley’s paintings are bland but attractive; easy looking pop art (or is that just interior design?). Pop art for Bromley is about designer nostalgia in a popular style.

There are other Melbourne-based pop artists, including Dennis Roper, Maria Kozic and many other lesser-known artists, but David Bromley works the publicity and marketing machine like Warhol. Smyth Gallery in Auckland notes, on their website, that “He has recently featured in articles in both Australian Vogue and Inside Out.” Australian Vogue and Inside Out do not have a reputation for art criticism or editorial independence; they are both fashion magazines. David Bromley has also featured in the free fashion magazine Attitude, according to my wife, Catherine who reads fashion and interior design magazines.

It was Catherine who pointed out that David Bromley is featured in an 11-page article in the March 2009 issue of Real Living. The article is part of the food section and has plenty of photographs of “David Bromley and his partner, designer Tori Dixon-Wittle” along with tuna carpaccio with black sesame seeds, fragrant her salad with fresh radish and chilli crab. David Bromley is photogenic, as is Tori. Along with the recipes, a short biography of David Bromley and promotion for his store, A Day on Earth. There is even a short entry on how to make “child-like artwork” like “Tori and David” in 8 steps.

There are a few other magazines that Bromley has appeared in that the galleries who represent him are not so keen to point out. In Feb 2006 there was an anonymous half page advert in Juxtapoz (v.13 n.2 p.103) featuring an obvious David Bromley-style image of children in a rowboat. The advert read: “Studio Assistant Wanted for Australian (Melbourne) based artists… I am looking for a very gifted and productive artist to help with every facet of daily studio grind. Someone whose talent outweighs their ego and is willing to contribute their skills & insight with respect & honesty.”

Wannabe art

What is the difference between graffiti and street art? The later is art but that is just a deductive point and the actual difference may be very subtle, like the difference between a carton of Campbell’s soup cans and Warhol’s cartons of Campbell’s soup cans in an art gallery. Part of the difference is that one is in an art gallery and the other is not but that is neither a necessary nor a sufficient difference, a point that seems to have been lost on some wannabe street artists. The white walls around Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy have become covered with graffiti as if this brings the writers closer to art. And now the stairwells of Westspace and Bus artist-run-spaces are becoming covered with tags. Outside Westspace I saw two pairs of shoes hanging from a wire. There are tags on their soles: Drew & Putz. If you sign it does it make it art?

Outside West Space

Outside West Space

But there are still more desperate acts of wannabe art on exhibition in Melbourne. When I visited No Vacancy the smell of aerosol was in the air as Swifty prepared a Susuki hatchback to do a ‘live’ piece at the opening. The Urban Dictionary  defines “Like a Swifty” as a incredibly bad or embarrassing performance at something which the person/s tried hard at. This sums up “The Swifty Show” at No Vacancy Gallery. I have never seen such a derivative exhibition, there is less original content in it than a photocopier. Swifty  is a British street-style designer who wants to be Pop artist and thinks that by re-branding Andy Warhol’s and Jasper Johns’ old images he will be one. Simply re-branding Vegemite jars or Campbell’s soup cans with his own “Swifty” logo is the work of a designer rather than be an artist. I don’t know what fool thinks that this is wit or the sophisticated work of “an unrepentant acolyte of the post hip hop sampling generation”. Swifty’s work might have pseudo-intellectual appeal if you have read a child’s guide to Pop Art.

I don’t know why so many street artists are desperate to get into art galleries when really they could earn a better living as designers than wannabe artists.

Neo Pop

“From afar, these things, these Movements take on a kind of appeal they don’t have close up. I can assure you. But, after all, I’m beginning to get used to the –isms.” 6 July, 1921 Marcel Duchamp


Art movements may be a kind of fiction, an attempt by art critics and historians to tell a story by creating categories that do not exist in reality, e.g. the baroque. Some clever post-Hegelian artists and poets consciously create their own art movements, e.g. Surrealism. Furthering a fiction by consciously creating ‘real’ examples is playful and creative but not a proof that the original fictional is true. Just as speaking Elvish or Klingon is not a proof of elves or Klingons.

Critics want an art movement to have a start and finish date, presenting a distinct section in the archeological dig through old art. The idea that the contemporary art world might simply be continuing past movements is anathema to the idea of progressive art. Pop art is an art movement started in the second half of last century and it seems to be continuing.

Neo-Pop at the John Buckley Gallery could be seen as demonstrating this continuing movement or a curatorial band to tie the work of disparate artists. The exhibition features art by Howard Arkley,
Rae Bolotin,
Marcel Cousins,
Janenne Eaton,
Kate Just,
Christopher Langton,
Nick Mangan,
Scott Redford,
Stuart Ringholt,
Carl Scrase (see my review: Only Rock’n’Roll)
, David Wadelton (see my review: Spin, Persephone, Homepage & Emu Feathers), 
Glenn Walls
and others. Some of these artists create works of capitalist realism like, others are jokers, and others are creating sculptures with pop rhythms and colors.  Or sculptures out of contemporary readymade materials, like Carl Scrase.

The artists in Neo-Pop are clearly influenced with the art of the 1960s but the art of the 1960s was not a unified, homogeneous whole but diverse variety. Pop is a difficult concept to define; just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Even though it is difficult to define and may not exist, Pop Art is something that I like. It is a term that refers to art that is fun and appealing, even apparently superficial, but also a mirror on consumer culture. I knew what to expect from the Neo-Pop exhibition because of the term ‘pop’ and it exceeded these expectations. 

Spin, Persephone, Homepage & Emu Feathers

David Wadelton’s paintings of contemporary pop idols are stunning. Pop art is not a movement that is confined to the history books as demonstrated by David Wadelton’s exhibition Spin at Tolarno Galleries. Pop art is about a love of popular art techniques (mass production, Ben Day dots) and the love of popular art (pop stars, movie stars and superheroes). Wadelton’s large canvases are an expression of love and adulation for these pop stars.

The eight large oil paintings in the exhibition depict the faces of pop stars have titles that refer to lyrics by the pop star. The faces look like they have all been shrink-wrapt (a filter on Photoshop) the highlights are so shiny. Packaged pop icons. The larger-than-life faces have been beautifully painted with lurid colours and photorealist styling. The backgrounds are carefully painted faux giant expressionist brushstrokes in different combinations of colours. In combining the pop and the expressionist elements in the paintings Wadelton is recreating the conflict at the genesis of pop art.


At Mailbox 141 is “Your Homepage” by Nada Poljski, a fine little exhibition. Poliski’s small delicate cut paper prints combine text and images. Each work folds into a little book cover. It is a series about meeting people online: the pokes, the fantasy, the reality and the homepage. It is odd to combine the virtual world with paper prints. The exhibition is perfect content to fill each of the glass-fronted mailboxes (that sounds like a metaphor for email). Poljski has an additional vitrine of slightly larger work above the mailboxes to add a bit more space to this very small artist-run exhibition space.


At Arc there is an exhibition by Maria Frenanda Cardoso, Cardoso’s arrangement of a standard material, in this case emu feathers, into poles and “flags” is formalist. There is no other content. The various arrangements of emu feathers is programmatic almost an index of variations. I find it interesting that the term ‘formalism’ is considered acceptable in mathematics and contemporary art but in ethics and aesthetics it denotes an invalid position. If you enjoy emu feather arrangement this exhibition is a must-see.


“Palimpsest: Persephone and the Underworld” by Robbie Harmsworth at 45 Downstairs explores an ancient Greek mythic theme. In a beautiful series of large prints with hand colouring and marbling Harmsworth tells part of the story of Hades and Persephone. It is only part of the story because the archaic story is incomplete; there is the palimpsest, the part erased by Zeus and the part erased by Hecate. For neither Zeus nor Hecate told Ceres, the mother Persephone that she was in the underworld.

The design of the prints successfully unites several styles from ancient to contemporary and clearly tells the mythic story. The bare trees in Ceres searching for her daughter are particularly evocative and effective.

Along with the prints Harmsworth is exhibiting oil paintings and other objects. His paintings with their outlines of details, rough backgrounds and the great mythic theme reminded me of the half finished paintings in the Paris studio, now a museum, of Gustave Moreau.

Not all of the work in Harmsworth’s exhibition is successful; the hanging figures of blackware ceramics and the samples of dried jacaranda flowers on muslin in vitrines appear like empty after thoughts. The pomegranate that Persephone ate is considered to symbolic of eternal life because they do not decay. Remarkably Harmsworth has managed to get a bowl of pomegranates at the exhibition to rot. 

Son of Pop Art

Anna Caione’s exhibition Ingresso at Gallery 101 looks good at a distance and survives a quick glance. On closer inspection the surfaces of digital print, oil paint, mixed media and beeswax appeared over worked for no other reason than to look arty. The choice to enlarge and replicate European entry tickets to the Guggenheim Venezia or Italian Lire is also arty. And there is not much else to Caione’s exhibition apart from this arty quality and a reference Rauschenberg’s Pop Art paintings.

Is this the end result of Pop Art? Making the ephemera of capitalist culture arty? This is not the progeny of Pop Art that I was hoping for when, as a youth, I saw the cool images of Warhol and Lichtenstein.

Meanwhile, the bastard children of pop art (or are they the legitimate heirs?) the stencil artists have found many new uses for old pop art techniques. These are on exhibition at Famous When Dead’s current exhibition Stencil Festival Unplugged. Artists like Homewrecker or Sloth, from Tasmania, are clearly influenced by Pop Art but they are also clearly contemporary stencil artists. Perhaps street art needs a new name – ‘the new graphic style’ or ‘the second wave of Pop Art’.

The Stencil Festival Unplugged has stencil artists/street artists from around Australia and the around the world: Norway, Brazil, USA and New Zealand. The exhibition is kind of divided between two types of street art. On one wall there are realists like, Kenji Nakayama from the USA, who produces beautiful duotone urban landscapes. Or Joey from Mooroolbark, Victoria is also producing fine urban realism and even history painting with “War is Over” using the famous dancing man celebrating the end of WWI in Melbourne. And on the other wall works by images from the imagination of artists like Shida’s dynamic cartoon style or Cultural Urge’s powerful black and white tattoo-style designs. But this is not a complete division and there were many works that fell in between. I particularly enjoyed Celso Gitahy stylish work.  Miz Cery and ZKLR, from Brisbane, had intense images on skate decks and wooden crates but most of the other artists preferred canvas or board for their surfaces.

Pop art can be a kind of realism. Pop art can be an artistic celebration of the ‘non-artistic’: the advertising illustration, tattoos and comics. Pop art can be a critical and humorous response to popular consumer culture. And stencil art can be all of these and more.

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