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The Pop Revolution

Alice Marquis

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Like any new art movement, Pop Art mercilessly criticized by traditionalists. But the more perceptive realised how society was changing. For almost everyone, advertsing was the art they saw every day. Each individual one might be ephemeral, but ads contribute far more to the 'visual climate' than do thrad fine arts.

Both the traditionalists and the Abstract Impressionists (the previous 'ruling' American art movement) were outraged at Pop art. But critics pointed out that same as every other art movement - rejecting/overturning previos definitions of what "Art" was.

By the end of the 50's, the cultural elite had lost its power to dictate aesthetic standards. The new mass art was urban and democratic.

The educated public had grown dramatically and were determined to exercise their own taste, rather than passively accept what some critic told them.

And the social context of the 60s was one of "do your own thing" and expand your horizons.

Pluralist attitude - find pleasure from a wide range of different kinds of art.

Huge problem for intellectual critics and commentators. Artists had stepped outside idea of high and low art, and instead saw a continuum which could accomodate a wide variety of expression. Reflecting the American way of life rather than commenting on it.

Younger critics emerging from unis in 60's not interested in trying to guide the viewer's taste. Rather they wanted to examine the artist's influences and context in today's consumer society.

When an artist approriates a pop art image, its significance is doubled. The original meaning is there, but the artist has added a new meaning, a comment on celebrity or the new means of communicating.

See a billboard or a poster in a new light - recognize where the pop artists are getting ideas. "I think that I shall never see, A billboard lovely as a tree. Indeed, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all." (Ogden Nash). Pop artists that painting trees no longer had contemprary reference, so we paint billboards.

In 1961 Ivan Karp was scout for new artists for Castelli Gallery when Roy Lichtenstein turned up with his painted enlargements of comic books and ads. "You really can't do this." he said, to which RL replied "Well I seem to be caught up in it. Here they are."

Robert Indiana had his first one-man show Oct 1962 with works selling fro $75 to $1600. Contrast between his flat pics with unmixed colours and no trace of brushstrokes, with Abstract Expressionists who "were only interested in putting their inner turmoil on the canvas."

By 1960, some fundamental changes in things affecteing American culture. TVs in just about every house, an enlarged radio spectrum delivering vast amounts of popular music and talk, inexpensive paperbacks expanding literature choices. Pop art seemed to bridge the gap between short-lived popular entertainment and serious art.

No movement in art history established itself so swiftly, in itself a reflection of how rapidly culture had changed.

Influence of the Abstract Expressionists in "tipping over the paintcan" in liberating painters from tradition by undermining previous movements. (Of course the Expressionists were enraged and bitter at how quickly they had been replaced.)

What they didn't see was that Pop Art reflected the landscape around them, even if that didn't match what the traditionalists wanted to see as appropriate 'landscape'.

While critics squabbled over "a war in a paintpot", the art scene, particularly in NY, expanded rapidly. While the critics responded with anguish to every new development, the pop artists enjoyed spectatcular success in a very short space of time - endorsed by collectors and curators.

De Kooning's tirade against jasper Johns: the older artist complaining about Castelli - "That son-of-a-bitch, you could give him two beer cans and he would sell them" Johns decided that that fit perfectly with what he was doing, so he made casts of two Ballantines Beer cans, "and Leo sold them."

The mid-60's banished the traditional critics permanently. A growing public market educated itself about art without any reference to the intellectuals, and fresh young Ivy league art history grads were challenging the whole odea of making judgements as to the 'worth' of any work. Dealers and collectors pushed towrds the margins in an effort to stay ahead of rising prices, leaving the old guys even further behind. And curators who experimented with shows of the new movement were rewarded with big jumps in attendances.

Where the debates, conducted by men who'd been through the Depression and WW2, had been between liberalism and socialism, now the young were dominating cultural discussions, consumerism was now the concern.

Where the traditional American values had been (sentimentally) expressed by Norman Rockwell, now RL showed stuff with no espoused values at all.

Warhol incredibly difficult to describe. In interviews he was always evasive and contradictory. "Why don't you just make stuff up?" he asked, and often they did.

The irony of his Brillo boxes. The original version cost 15 cents to make and you cd pick up a cardboard version from supermarket dumpster for nothing. Warhol's replica was made of plywood by a cabinetmaker, carefully stencilled, and then sold for $200 (small) or $400 (large). The gallery owner was unhappy that Warhol wanted to sell 400 of them, but at the opening a long queue snaked around the block. One anonymous collector bought 20.

Parallel with the religious Reformation, where individuals given the right to commune with God without clerical intervention. Now, images in the new glossy mags like ArtForum and ArtNews gave every reader the chance to make their own judgement of art.

As painting prices soared, a market for prints developed. You cd buy 10 prints for $90. In 1969 RL's gallery sold $700,000 worth of prints.

Warhol by far the most prolific. Records from Nov 2007 showed that 297 Campbell's Soups, 587 Flowers, and 696 Marilyns had been though the main auction houses. No-one knows how many were actually produced. Most were produced by an army of silk screen printers around NY, and every one of them was smart enough to print off copies for themselves.

Warhol went where the money was. In the 1970s, that was celebrities. Whereas the aristocrats of the past had hired people like Titian or Gainsborough and endured long hours posing in their studios, the new aristocracy just had to drop by the Factory for Warhol to take a quick polaroid. He was adept at producing a flattering image, with wrinkles and blemished magically erased.

He sold roughly 1000 portraits at $25,000 eaxh - $25 million. And ge didn't work hard for that - spent around 2 -3 hours a day drawing or pasting images together.

After he died, the financial picture became (slightly) clearer. Southerby's held an auction of his effects, raising $25 million (double expectations). They sold the five volume catalog of the auction for $95 (it goes for over $1000 today).

It turned out he had a portfolio of blue chip shares and bonds, two Manhattan townhouses, a5 building compound on Long Island, commercial buildings such as the Factory on Union Square and others on the Lower East Side. The thwere was another $8 million from life insurance and a payout from the hospital that botched his final post-op care. It took 19 months to tally everything, and final figure was %600 million.

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