art trhough pop art
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25-22 JASPER JoHNS, Three Flags, 1958. Encaustic on canvas, 2' 6f' X 3' 9t". Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (50th Anniversary Gift of the Gilman Foundation, the Lauder Foundation, and A. Alfred Taubman).
American Pop artist Jasper Johns wanted to
draw attention to common objects people view frequently but rarely scrutinize. He made
many paintings of targets, flags, numbers, and
flag painting in 1954 at the height of the Cold War. Ini-tially labeled a Neo-Dadaist because of the kinship of his works to Marcel Duchamp's readymades (FIG. 24-27), Johns also had strong ties to the Surrealists, especially Rene Magritte, whose painting of a pipe labeled "This is not a pipe" (FIG. 24-56) is conceptually a forerunner ofJohns's flags-for example, Three Flags (FIG. 25-22), which could easily carry the label "These are not flags." In fact, when asked why he chose the American flag as a subject, Johns replied he had a dream in which he saw himself painting a flag. The world of dreams was central to Surrealism (see Chapter 24).
In Three Flags, Johns painted a trio of overlapping American national banners of decreasing size, with the smallest closest to the viewer, reversing traditional per-spective, which calls for diminution of size with dis-tance. Johns drained meaning from the patriotic em-blem by reducing it to a repetitive pattern-not the flag itself but three pictures of a flag in one. Nevertheless, the heritage of Abstract Expressionism is still apparent. Al-though Johns rejected the heroic, highly personalized application of pigment championed by the 1950s action painters, he painted his flags in encaustic (liquid wax and dissolved pigment; see "Encaustic Painting," Chap-ter 7, page 218) mixed with newsprint on three overlapping canvases. His flags thus retain a pronounced surface tex-ture, emphasizing that the viewer is looking at a handmade painting, not a machine-made fabric. The painting, like the flags, is an object, not an illusion of other objects.
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG A close friend of Johns's, ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG (1925-2008) began using mass-media images in his work in the 1950s. Rauschenberg set out to create works that would be open and indetermi-nate, and he began by making combines, which intersperse painted passages with sculptural elements. Combines are, in a sense, Rauschenberg's personal variation on assemblages, artworks constructed from already existing objects. At times, these combines seem to be sculptures with painting incorporated into certain sections. Others seem to be paint-
25-23 ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, Canyon, 1959. Oil, pencil, paper, fabric, metal, cardboard box, printed paper, printed reproductions, photograph, wood, paint tube, and mirror on canvas, with oil on bald eagle, string, and pillow, 6' 9-;l-" X 5' 10" X 2'. Sonnabend Collection, New York. Robert Rauschenberg/ Licensed by VAGA, New York.
Rauschenberg's "combines" intersperse painted passages with sculptural elements. Canyon incorporates pigment on canvas with pieces of printed paper, photographs,
a pillow, and a stuffed eagle.
802 Chapter 25 MODERNISM AND POSTMODERNISM IN EUROPE AND AMERICA, 1945 TO 1980
ARTISTS ON ART
Roy Lichtenstein on Pop Art
I n November 1963, Roy Lichtenstein was one of eight painters interviewed for a profile on Pop Art in Art News. Gene R. Swenson posed the questions. Some of Lichtenstein's answers follow.
[Pop Art is) the use of commercial art as a subject matter in painting ... [Pop art ists portray] what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, th ings we hate, but which are also so powerful in their impingement on us .... I paint directly ... [without] perspective or shading. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing it-self. Instead of looking like a painting of a billboard ... Pop art seems to be the
25-24 RoY LICHTENSTEIN, Hopeless, 1963. Oil and synthetic poly-mer paint on canvas, 3' 8" X 3' 8". Kunst-museum Basel, Basel. Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.
Comic books appealed to Lichtenstein because they were a mainstay of popular culture, meant to be read and discarded. The Pop artist immortalized their images on large canvases.
actual thing. It is an intensification, a stylistic intensification of the excitement which the subject matter has for me; but the style is ... cool. One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanized and removed style. To express this thing in a painterly style would dilute it. ... Everybody has called Pop Art "American" painting, but it's actually industrial painting. America was hit by industrialism and capitalism harder and sooner ... I think the meaning of my work is that it's indus-trial, it's what all the world will soon become. Europe will be the same way, soon, so it won't be American; it will be universal.*
ings with three-dimensional objects attached to the surface. In the 1950s, assemblages usually contained an array of art reproductions, magazine and newspaper clippings, and passages painted in an Ab-stract Expressionist style. In the early 1960s, Rauschenberg adopted the commercial medium of silk-screen printing, first in black and white and then in color, and began filling entire canvases with ap-propriated news images and anonymous photographs of city scenes.
Canyon (FIG. 25-23) is typical of his combines. P ieces of printed paper and photographs cover parts of the canvas. Much of the unevenly painted surface consists of pigment roughly ap-plied in a manner reminiscent of de Kooning's work (FIG. 25-8). A stuffed bald eagle attached to the lower part of the combine spreads its wings as if lifting off in flight toward the viewer. Completing the combine, a pillow dangles from a string attached to a wood stick below the eagle. The artist presented the work's components in a jumbled fashion. He tilted or turned some of the images side-ways, and each overlays part of another image. The compositional confusion may resemble that of a Dada collage, but the parts of Rauschenberg's combines maintain their individuality more than those, for example, in a Schwitters piece (FIG . 24-29). The eye scans a Rauschenberg canvas much as it might survey the environment on a walk through a city. The various recognizable images and objects seem unrelated and defy a consistent reading, although Rauschenberg chose a ll the elements of his combines with specific
THAT'S THE WAY--IT 5HOULD~......_ HAVE BEGUN/ BUT IT:5
*G. R. Swenson, "What Is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters," Art News 62, no. 7 (November 1963), 25, 64.
meanings in mind. For example, Rauschenberg based Canyon on a Rembrandt painting of Jupiter in the form of an eagle carrying the boy Ganymede heavenward. The photo in the combine is a refer-ence to the Greek boy, and the hanging bag is a v isual pun on his buttocks.
ROY LICHTENSTEIN As the Pop Art movement matured, the images became more concrete and t ightly controlled. RoY LICHTENSTEIN (1923-1997), who was born in Manhattan not far from Madison Avenue, the center of the American advertising in-dustry, developed an interest in art in elementary school and as a teenager took weekend painting classes at the Parsons School of Design before enrolling at Ohio State University. He served in the army during World War II and was stationed in France, where he was able to visit the Musee du Louvre and Chartres Cathedral. In the late 1950s, however, he turned his attention to commercial art and especially to the comic book as a mainstay of American popu-lar culture (see "Roy Lichtenstein on Pop Art," above).
In paintings such as Hopeless (FIG . 25-24), Lichtenstein ex-cerpted an image from a comic book, a form of entertainment meant to be read and discarded, and immortalized the image on a large canvas. Aside from that modification, Lichtenstein remained remarkably faithfu l to the original com ic-strip image. His subjects were typically the melodramatic scenes that were hallmarks of
Painting, Sculpture , and Photog raphy 803
"I 25-25 ANDY WARHOL, Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962. Oil on canvas, 6' 10!" X 4 ' 9". Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Warhol was the quintessential American Pop artist. Here, he se lected an
icon of mass-produced, consumer culture, and then multiplied it, reflecting Coke's omnipresence in American society.
romance comic books popular at the time and included "balloons" with the words the characters speak. Lichtenstein also used the visual vocabulary of the comic strip, with its dark black outlines and unmodulated color areas, and retained the fam iliar square di -mensions. Moreover, his printing technique, benday dots, called attention to the mass-produced derivation of the image. Named af-ter its inventor, the newspaper printer Benjamin Day (1810-1889), the benday-dot system involves the modulation of colors through the placement and size of colored dots. Lichtenstein thus trans-ferred the visual shorthand language of the comic book to the realm of monumental painting.
ANDY WARH 0 L The quintessential American Pop artist was ANDY WARHOL (1928- 1987). An early successful career as a com-mercial artist and illustrator grounded Warhol in the sensibility and
2525A WARHOL, Marilyn Oiptych, 1962. ~
visual rhetoric of advertising and the mass media. This knowledge proved useful for his Pop artworks, which often depicted icons of mass-produced consumer culture, such as Green Coca-Cola Bottles (FIG. 25-25), and Hollywood celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe (1926- 1962; FIG. 25-25A). Warhol
favored reassuringly familiar objects and people. He explained his attraction to the ubiquitous curved Coke bottle:
What's great about this country is that America started the tradi-tion where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Co keY
As did other Pop artists, Warhol used a visual vocabulary and a printing method that reinforced the image's connections to con-sumer culture. The silk-screen technique allowed Warhol to print the image endlessly (although he varied each bottle slightly). The repetition and redundancy of the Coke bottle reflect the satura-tion of this product in American so-ciety-in homes, at work, literally everywhere, including gas stations, as immortalized by GEORGE SEGAL (1924-2000) in 1963 (FIG. 25-258). So immersed was Warhol in a culture of 25-258 SEGAL, Gas Station, 1963.
mass production that he not only produced numerous canvases of the same image but also named his studio "the Factory."
CLAES OLDENBURG In the 1960s, CLAES OLDENBURG (b. 1929) also produced Pop artworks that incisively commented on American consumer culture, but his medium was sculpture. The son of a Swedish diplomat who moved to the United States in 1936, Oldenburg attended school in Chicago and graduated from Yale University in 1950. His early works consisted of plaster reliefs of food and clothing items. Oldenburg constructed these sculptures of plaster layered on chicken wire and muslin, paint ing them with cheap commercial house enamel. In later works, focused on the same subjects, he shifted to large-scale stuffed sculptures of sewn vinyl or canvas, many of which he exhibited in a show he titled The Store-an appropriate comment on the function of art as a com-modity in a consumer society.
Oldenburg is best known, however, for his mammoth outdoor sculptures. In 1966, a group of graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture, calling themselves the Colossal Keepsake Corpo-ration, raised funds for materials for a giant sculpture that Olden-burg agreed to create (in secret and without a fee) as a gift to his a lma mater. The work, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (FIG. 25-26), was Oldenburg's first monumental public sculpture. He installed Lipstick on Ascension Day, May 15, 1969, on Beineke Plaza across from the office of the university's president, the site of many raucous protests against the Vietnam War. Oldenburg's characteristic humor emerges unmistakably in the combination of phall ic and militaristic imagery, especially in the double irony of the "phallus" being a woman's cosmetic item, and the Caterpillar-type endless-loop metal tracks suggesting not a tractor-earthmover for construction work but a military tank designed for destruction in warfare. Lipstick was to be a speaker's platform for protesters, and originally the lipstick tip was a drooping red vinyl balloon the speaker had to inflate, underscoring the sexual innuendo. (Olden-burg once remarked that art collectors preferred nudes, so he pro-duced nude cars, nude telephones, and nude electric plugs to please them.)
Vandalism and exposure to the elements (the original tractor was plywood) caused so much damage to Lipstick that it had to be removed and reconstructed in metal and fiberglass. Yale formally accepted the controversial and unsolicited repaired gift in 1974,
804 Chapter 25 MODERNISM AND POSTMODERNISM I N EUROPE AN D AMERICA, 1945 TO 1980