Everything is pretty
If the abstract painters of the post-war years had banished the figurative world of objects from art for the purpose of greater realism, the Pop Artists brought it back in again, in the most direct and powerful way imaginable. At the end of the 50s, in the middle of the most affluent years of the economic boom, «Popular Art» or Pop Art for short, which developed simultaneously in England and the United States, declared the banal objects of modern everyday life to be art works.
The Pop Artists quoted the images of popular mass culture, the popular press, advertising, magazines, movies and product packaging. The Artists responded to the competition of the image media, which were already starting to invade and even to dominate everyday life, by integrating the floods of imagery from the media in their own works. These works were no longer artistic worlds devised by the artist, but «images from images». This pictorial worlds, which were familiar and comprehensible to everybody, must have been like a liberation for the wider public, after the elite art of abstraction.
Now nobody had to be afraid of art any more; insider knowledge and education were not required. Everybody knew and recognised these images. Small wonder, then, that this art was extremely popular, especially among young people. Art was suddenly fresh and contemporary, it no longer breathed the musty air of the museums.
With the refined artistic coup of bringing the consumer world into art as a motif, artists like Tom Wesselman, Richard Hamilton, Claes Oldenburg, David Hockney and Andy Warhol trod a narrow path: on the one hand they wanted «things to speak for themselves, without illusion», and on the other, Pop Art, by declaring soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and washing-powder packages to be the new superstars of art, served popular mass culture.
Pop Art not only used the products of popular mass culture: the works were also produced, like them, in series in Andy Warhol’s «Factory» The silk screen, a simple and at the same time variable means of mass production, became the preferred medium.
Multiples, paintings and objects in large editions, thus depriving the artwork of its uniqueness, essentially corresponded to the hybrid status of Pop Art, between high art and mass culture.
The hand-made painting, it seemed, had served its purpose. Or else, because of its outmoded technique, it contained artistic stimuli. Roy Lichtenstein projected comic strip pictures on the canvas with a slide projector to make a painting of the printed image in the traditional way, with paint and brush.
The Painting, with its meticulously brushed-in raster points, had an unmasking character, because as the format grew so did the banality of the comics. But the critical potential of these works remained unresolved, as they oscillated between ironic distance and the glorification of American everyday culture.
Whether Pop Art was to be seen as a mischievously profound critique of the glittering consumer world, or as a skiful way of joining in the commercial stream, remained and still remains a matter of interpretation, which it is up to the individual to decide.
Making similar use of the craftsman’s tools of paint and brush, from the end of the 60s the Photorealists engaged with their brave new world.
They too painted «images from mages», but did so in such a way as to create a certain distance.
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