The history of art at the beginning of the 20th century is characterized by the appearance of unique art movements and their branches. Each new direction denied and profaned the previous one: Impressionism was followed by Post-Impressionism, after Dadaism came Neo-Dadaism. In other words, every modern movement was followed by its own post-modern evolution. Those who did not embrace the current forms of art were accused of lacking intellect and imagination. In attempting not to be labeled as ignorant, art lovers and ambitious collectors pretended to accept non-figurative art by the likes of Kandinsky and Pollock, while being stuck with an unanswered question: what is that?
At this point in history, the popular masses had been waiting a long time for the chance to embrace real and understandable art. Social development in the American post-war society granted all the prerequisites for that: with a flourishing economy on the rise, the average family income had increased, more houses were being built, and people were actively seeking entertainment. They finally had more time to dedicate to leisure, and they started frequenting art exhibits and buying inexpensive paintings to hang above the couch. Silk-screenings and prints increased in popularity practically overnight. Owning such forms of art brought about a better understanding of the piece, and sometimes a feeling of owner’s pride. Why? Because it was a painting by an American artist with a recognizable subject, easily understood and recognized.
What had started as a protest movement composed of a small group of British and American artists at the end of the fifties in the last century had evolved into the great philosophical trend of modern society. Popular art, better known as “Pop Art,” had demonstrated that anything may become an art object. About a dozen artists became pioneers of Pop Art, with followers across the globe and immediately-recognizable hallmarks. These artists pulled from modern-day life to give their customers and admirers something that they knew. This popular movement was aimed at the masses as an easily-accessible form of art, as opposed to the super-intellectual expressive obstruction (which was not that easily comprehended by the average Joe).
In the spring of this year, James Rosenquist died. He was the oldest representative of the first Pop Art pioneers. He became famous for his scary and aggressive painting style, in which he combined inanimate objects with fragments of human faces and bodies. His painting entitled ”F-111” (1964), named after a military plane, was hailed by critics as a “New Guernica.” The picture depicted a mix of weapons of mass destruction, and represented a protest against the Vietnam War. A universal topic in the Pop Art movement was best captured in a famous work by Robert Indiana, entitled “LOVE” (1960). The original image was created on paper, in blue, with the letter ‘O’ turned on its side. Later, it was repeated in the media, from TV commercials to huge sculptures all over the world.
Each founder of this movement went his own individual way, taking as a base either a material object or idea. For example, Robert Raushenberg and Claes Oldenburg were taken by the aesthetics of city garbage. They took what the city had processed – old posters, tickets, broken fragments of construction materials and so on, and brought them into the bright limelight of galleries. Those “garbage” installations told spectators the story of the city and elevated refuse to an important element. Without them, city life was impossible. Jasper Jones went down in history as an artist whose subject is the best-known symbol of the States – the American flag. Jones added new meaning to the flag. One could wonder, what else could be added to the official stars and stripes? While it was good to have an American flag at home, having a painting of it was conceptual, it became more than just an emblem. It became art.
The most famous name in Pop Art is a household staple: Andy Warhol. Being a talented artist, he was also a flamboyant and shocking person in everything he did. He worked with recognizable subjects, which he painted with bright and open color and duplicated in shades of rainbow. Using this simple but effective method, he was able to create idols out of Hollywood pop stars, as well as food containers. He also used all the available printing-press means of the time: from complex silk-screenings to simple paper prints, there was something affordable for every exhibit visitor. Pink Marilyn Monroe’s and green Elvis Presley’s filled up all the empty spaces in newly-built houses across America. In history, no other artist in the United States had enjoyed such enormous popularity.
Pop Art rejected all the principles of traditional art. It was exalted by vulgarity, found beauty in recycled material, brought painting to caricature, was not foreign to mass print and did not pretend to be exclusive. What kind of aesthetics did it preach? Many believed that Pop Art was not an art direction, but a form of social advertisement. Nevertheless, the price of this conceptual art became incredibly high – simple flags cost enormous money at modern-art auctions. A few art dealers saw the tremendous potential in this early on; Leo Castelli and Elena Sonnabend were among the first. In addition to supporting artists financially, they managed to convince collectors that their investment in Pop Art would never depreciate. To this day, Pop Art pieces are still some of the most expensive in the world at auction. It is a common belief that Pop Art was created not by great artists, but great art dealers… it would be difficult to deny that!
Today, we can all agree that Pop Art has played an important role in this country’s economics and social development. The market is multi-level, ranging from masterpieces in museums to prints in small galleries to posters on college dormitory walls. We have become the witnesses of a phenomena known as the “Pop Art industry.” Pop Art’s simple methods continue to be applied by today’s artists to different objects and activities. Fashion, furniture design, household items, advertisements, book graphics, computer graphics – these are just a few directions in which the main principles of Pop Art were adapted. From a disgust for pretension, grew this all-absorbing popularity… the literal rags-to-riches story!
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