Pop Art

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What is Pop Art?

Pop art is a visual art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States and reached its height in the mid 1960s. Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist's use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art. Pop removes the material from its context and isolates the object, or combines it with other objects, for contemplation. The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.


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Pop art is an art movement of the twentieth century. Characterized by themes and techniques drawn from popular mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects, pop art is widely interpreted as a reaction to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism, as well as an expansion upon them. Pop art, aimed to employ images of popular as opposed to elitist culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture, most often through the use of irony. It is also associated with the artists' use of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques.

Much of pop art is considered incongruent, as the conceptual practices that are often used make it difficult for some to readily comprehend. Pop art and minimalism are considered to be art movements that precede postmodern art, or are some of the earliest examples of Postmodern Art themselves.

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Pop art often takes as its imagery that which is currently in use in advertising. Product labeling and logos figure prominently in the imagery chosen by pop artists, like in the Campbell's Soup Cans labels, by Andy Warhol. Even the labeling on the shipping carton containing retail items has been used as subject matter in pop art, for example in Warhol's Campbell's Tomato Juice Box 1964, (pictured below), or his Brillo Soap Box sculptures.


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The origins of pop art in North America, China and Great Britain developed slightly differently. In America, it marked a return to hard-edged composition and representational art as a response by artists using impersonal, mundane reality, irony and parody to defuse the personal symbolism and "painterly looseness" of Abstract Expressionism. By contrast, the origin in post-War Britain, while employing irony and parody, was more academic with a focus on the dynamic and paradoxical imagery of American popular culture as powerful, manipulative symbolic devices that were affecting whole patterns of life, while improving prosperity of a society. Early pop art in Britain was a matter of ideas fueled by American popular culture viewed from afar, while the American artists were inspired by the experiences of living within that culture. However, pop art also was a continuation of certain aspects of Abstract Expressionism, such as a belief in the possibilities for art, especially for large-scale artwork. Similarly, pop art was both an extension and a repudiation of Dadaism. While pop art and Dadaism explored some of the same subjects, pop art replaced the destructive, satirical, and anarchic impulses of the Dada movement with detached affirmation of the artifacts of mass culture. Among those artists seen by some as producing work leading up to Pop art are Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, and Man Ray.

The Independent Group (IG), founded in London in 1952, is regarded as the precursor to the pop art movement. They were a gathering of young painters, sculptors, architects, writers and critics who were challenging prevailing modernist approaches to culture as well as traditional views of Fine Art. The group discussions centered around popular culture implications from such elements as mass advertising, movies, product design, comic strips, science fiction and technology. At the first Independent Group meeting in 1952, co-founding member, artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi presented a lecture using a series of collages titled Bunk! that he had assembled during his time Paris between 1947-1949. This material consisted of 'found objects' such as, advertising, comic book characters, magazine covers and various mass produced graphics that mostly represented American popular culture. One of the images in that presentation was Paolozzi's 1947 collage, I was a Rich Man's Plaything, which includes the first use of the word "pop″, appearing in a cloud of smoke emerging from a revolver. Following Paolozzi's seminal presentation in 1952, the IG focused primarily on the imagery of American popular culture, particularly mass advertising.

Subsequent coinage of the complete term "pop art" was made by John McHale for the ensuing movement in 1954. "pop art" as a moniker was then used in discussons by IG members in the Second Session of the IG in 1955, and the specific term "pop art" first appeared in published print in an article by IG members Alison and Peter Smithson in Arc, 1956. However, the term is often credited to British art critic/curator, Lawrence Alloway in a 1958 essay titled The Arts and the Mass Media, although the term he uses is "popular mass culture" Nevertheless, Alloway was one of the leading critics to defend the inclusion of the imagery found in mass culture in fine art.

Although the movement began in the late 1950s, Pop Art in America was given its greatest impetus during the 1960s. By this time, American advertising had adopted many elements and inflections of modern art and functioned at a very sophisticated level. Consequently, American artists had to search deeper for dramatic styles that would distance art from the well-designed and clever commercial materials. As the British viewed American popular culture imagery from a somewhat removed perspective, their views were often instilled with romantic, sentimental and humorous overtones. By contrast, American artists being bombarded daily with the diversity of mass produced imagery, produced work that was generally more bold and aggressive.

Two important painters in the establishment of America's pop art vocabulary were Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. While the paintings of Rauschenberg have relationships to the earlier work of Kurt Schwitters and other Dadaists, his concern was with social issues of the moment. His approach was to create art out of ephemeral materials and using topical events in the life of everyday America gave his work a unique quality. Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s work of the 1950s is classified as Neo-Dada, and is visually distinct from the classic American Pop Art which began in the early 1960s.

Of equal importance to American pop art is Roy Lichtenstein. His work probably defines the basic premise of pop art better than any other through parody. Selecting the old-fashioned comic strip as subject matter, Lichtenstein produces a hard-edged, precise composition that documents while it parodies in a soft manner. The paintings of Lichtenstein, like those of Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and others, share a direct attachment to the commonplace image of American popular culture, but also treat the subject in an impersonal manner clearly illustrating the idealization of mass production. Andy Warhol is probably the most famous figure in Pop Art. Warhol attempted to take Pop beyond an artistic style to a life style, and his work often displays a lack of human affectation that dispenses with the irony and parody of many of his peers.

In the fall of 1962 New York art dealer Sidney Janis organized a groundbreaking exhibition, called The New Realists, an international survey of new to the scene contemporary American Pop artists and a related group of European artists associated with the art movement called New Realism. The Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition included Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Lindner, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Tom Wesselmann, George Segal, Marisol, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Arman, Mario Schifano, Enrico Baj, Mimmo Rotella, Christo, Martial Raysse, Öyvind Fahlström and several others

Also in 1962 in Los Angeles Roy Lichtenstein's work was included, along with Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Wayne Thiebaud, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd, in the historical New Painting of Common Objects, curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum. This exhibition was the first Pop Art museum exhibition in America. These painters were part of a new movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world and changed art forever. This museum exhibition was followed by the Guggenheim Museum's 1963 pop art exhibition Six Painters and the Object, curated by Lawrence Alloway. Artists included in the Alloway exhibition were Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol.

Commercial galleries that first exhibited the Pop artists in the early to mid-1960s included the Green Gallery, the Stable Gallery, the Sidney Janis Gallery, the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York and the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.

It should also be noted that while the British pop art movement predated the American pop art movement, there were some earlier American proto-Pop origins which utilized 'as found' cultural objects. During the 1920s American artists Gerald Murphy, Charles Demuth and Stuart Davis created paintings prefiguring the pop art movement that contained pop culture imagery such as mundane objects culled from American commercial products and advertising design



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