Here we are with the first post about contemporary movements! It will be longer than the ones regarding single works, for obvious reasons, but we will try to make it as easy and clear as possible! To do so, we will divide the article into themes with references to specific artworks. We tried to put here and there as many links as possible to previous or future articles, so that you can have a better reference to everything we are talking about. Being this our first article about the artistic movements, it is impossible for us to relate to previous movements even if we mention them. They will be updated as soon as possible!
Historical and artistic background
The Pop Art was born in the middle of the last century, in a period when, after the war, the mass consumption of products was an interesting topic for artists and intellectuals. In the UK a group of artists were calling themselves the “Independent Group” and were meeting regularly to discuss the issues related to the post-war world and how to represent them in art.
Moreover, in New York the Abstract Expressionism (check out our article about Pollock here, and about Abstract Expressionism here) was already living a crisis, and the Europeans – as well as the young generations of American artists – wanted to come back to the figurative works. The Dada movement was very inspirational for them (a link to the article about the Dada will be seen here as soon as it will be written), as they used to take “ready-made” objects (see the article on Marcel Duchamp and the definition of ready-made here) to give them new lives as works of art. In a way, Pop artists were doing the same thing with images of the popular culture.
The Dada movement was so important for the artists of the generation of Andy Warhol that some of them later on will be called “Neo-Dada“. We are talking about artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg (here is the article about one of his works, here is the article about an exhibition which included some of his works), Frank Stella.
Even though Pop Art officially started in the UK during the ’50s, it is in the US that ten years later it will know its golden age.
- The global communication had already started to be filled with images, the world was gradually transforming its language from words to figures. The artists wanted then to give more dignity to those images, elevating them to the art status. They took some “ready-made” of their time: images coming from advertising, comics, popular culture.
- The origin of term “Pop Art” is not clear, but it is evident that it comes from “popular”, even if it is not to misunderstand as “coming from the people”. The real meaning here is to be associated with the mass production and the seriality of the images. Moreover, the term comes directly from the artists involved, as an appropriation of the word from the very first time.
Industrial reproduction, as we said, is one of the main points of Pop Art. Art until that time was meant to be original and unique, but this concept is completely overturned by Pop artists, as they see in the serial reproduction the same dignity as in a unique piece. This is why many artists such as Andy Warhol painted or created sculptures with many pieces one similar or identical to the other, because they wanted this to be a recognizable characteristic of their work.
- The reproduction of mass products and series of works imitating the industrial process weren’t a critic to the society of the time. This is a common error to make, but be careful: to be critical was not the intention of Pop Art.
- Every artist had his particular style and his particular way to interpret popular culture, and the outcomes of their works were always very different from each other. In the next section we will explain each of them in the detail.
Richard Hamilton is considered to be the initiator of the entire movement: he was working in the UK, being part of the Independent Group we spoke about at the beginning of the article. His work called Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? was the first Pop artwork of all times. As you can see from the image here, it has also the word “POP” in the very center of the work. This is a collage, a medium that comes from the Cubists but that is reintepretated here in an extreme way. Every figure here is coming from magazines, advertisements or newspapers, and then it is glued to the whole piece making the indoor of a house. If you look closely, you will notice that every little image is related to a popular object that even the youngest generations of today will recognize.
Andy Warhol began his career as an advertisement illustrator. His first paintings were deeply inspired by that incredible world that he knew so well (the perfect example is a painting called Advertisements, 1990).
The most important characteristic of his work is the repetition, as we said before. There are many works that he realized as a collection of identical twins, but the most famous is without any doubts the series dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. The famous actress became herself a “ready-made”, because she wasn’t a creation of the artist, but her personality already existed. She was the perfect example of an art subject that is also an object of the mass. Andy Warhol also adopted a complete new technique for him at a certain point of his career: the silkscreen print. It allowed him to replicate his works infinite times.
With his replicas and his series, the artist showed how the artworks were nothing more than a product in a supermarket shelf, an object with a market value and a mass recognition.
Roy Lichtenstein is best known for his comic-like paintings. Very few people know that actually he was painting completely different thing until the idea of the comic came up and made his fortune.
The comics are his signature, and he literally copied some already-existing comics in huge dimensions. Just as Andy Warhol did with the advertisements campaigns, Lichenstein wanted to give more dignity to the comics. He firmly believed that the work of the illutrators was similar to art, because it had messages to vehicle and specific techniques to respect. One emblematic work is Magnifying Glass (1963), that is exposing the basic technique under every comics of the ’60s: the dots. The dots were very useful when printing, because with them it was possible to draw shadows, shades, different colors made up from the union of the primary colors, etc.
His work was not only copying some comics, but also making little changes, such as the sentences said by his protagonists, some details of the drawing or some colors, and of course the size. He recreated exactly the technique of the dots with a spectacular precision, “blurring the distinction between art and mass production” (you’ll find the source here).
Oldenburg is mostly famous for his gigantic sculptures, representing popular objects on a bigger scale. We wrote about one example, Floor Burger, here.
When he started though he was not operating with enourmous objects, but just reproducing normal everyday objects. One of his first works was The Store, a little store he rented to exhibit his reproductions of melted or crashed objects. This comparison between the works of art and simple objects in a store is similar to Andy Warhol’s reflection about the work of art as an object as many others.
After this installation of different little works of art, “Oldenburg would continue to focus on commonplace objects throughout his career, moving from soft sculptures to grand public art, like the 45-foot-high Clothespin (1974)” (source: Theartstory)
Other artists and contributors
The artists we just mentioned are universally recognized as the most important ones, but many other were working on the same subjects in Europe at the same time: we are talking about Piero Manzoni – with his provocative works such as the Artist’s Shit or the Artist’s Breath – in Italy, Yves Klein – with the search for the void in a world too full and for spirituality, reached with his famous special blue – in France, as well as many others (to mention some names: Arman, César, Christo, Jean Tinguely, among the others). These artists though are more connected to another movement, that has many things to do with Pop Art: the New Realism. The New Realism was so important for the development of Pop Art, that we can’t think of it without at least mentioning those artists.
Pop Art is probably the most famous contemporary movement among everyone, even those who don’t know contemporary art at all, probably for many reasons: the bright colors used in the artworks, the many replicas of the same work, the subjects which are popular by definition, etc.
In more recent years, a new movement was born, the so-called “Neo-Pop” (here you will find the link to the article about Neo-Pop as soon as it will be published). It burned out after the popularity of Performance Art, Body Art and Video Art during the ’60s and the early ’70s (stay tuned for next week’s article for this!). The king of Neo-Pop is Jeff Koons, an artist that made his art out of scandals, reproductions of useless everyday objects and giant-scale sculptures. Here you can see an example of Koon’s work, a piece of the Made In Heaven series, made with his wife Ilona Staller (a famous pornstar).
Another important artist of this movement is the Italian Maurizio Cattelan, who for example reinterpreted the famous Fountain by Duchamp in his own way: he put a golden WC in the toilets of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, where the public could go just as if it was a normal one.
Pop Art is certainly the one that people prefer the most, many of you will have a reproduction of a painting by Andy Warhol hung on your house walls. Andy Warhol is stable in the first position of any artists’ ranking ever, and probably it will be the same in the near future (source: Artprice.com). Just a few people though know what it is really about, and we tried to make it simple and clear!
Let us know what you think about it and about this column of ours!