Categorized | Arts & Culture

The Campbell Soup Canon

At this point, Andy Warhol is a household name. His own image has evolved into a modern icon, ironically epitomizing what he meant to create in the first place. The sheen simplicity and stark detraction of the artist\’s \”hand\” from the work created a sly manipulation of popular American culture and the erupting fusion of advertising and media influx. Aside from Warhol, pop art as a genre enjoyed a brightly-colored bubble-gum voyage that has outlived Marilyn, Jackie and those eye-catching Lichtenstein comic-book allusions. [art11]
The Kresge Art Museum\’s current exhibition, \”Blast from the Past,\” features artists from the 1960\’s and 70\’s, shadowing the emergence of Figurative Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction, Op Art, Color Field Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. With work from recognizable names, the exhibit is a modest but critical exploration into an era that has been frozen in time through college dorm posters, widespread anti-war/peace sentiment and Beach Boys vinyl that seems immortal. Kresge Art Museum attendant Amanda Bodner said that the exhibition \”brings attention to different areas of art.\” In addition, the art of the 1960\’s and 70\’s was \”innovative in its time; [it] changed what modernism had been known as.\”
A walk through the exhibition shed light on popular techniques and added new dimension to actual texture, brushstroke (or lack thereof) and surface value. The figurative expressionists, with their free-wheeling addition of actual form into abstract expressionist paintings, added a more personal touch to the snarled web of \”drip\” that Pollock and others had employed. Op Art offered a sense of illusionism within a strict pattern with lines that seemed to \”vibrate against each other,\” as a brochure for Kresge stated.
[meh] But according to Kresge Art Museum curator April Kingsley, \”the main feature of the show is Color Field Abstraction which was an extremely important 60\’s development, characterized by large paintings made by staining, pouring, spraying or otherwise applying the paint without expressive brushwork in a rejection of aspects of Abstract Expressionism.\”
With enormous canvases acting as an aesthetic \”stage\” for the painting to \”perform,\” the Color Field section of the exhibition seems to quietly dominate in a room with an amalgam of high-profile artists. With a large eggshell canvas accompanied by thick, sinuous ribbons of blues and purples, Morris Louis\’s Alpha-Theta covered the wall. Further down the room, Geometric Abstraction changed viewer perspective, rejecting a free-spirited connection of painter and canvas for a cold detachment of clean, hard lines that left no identity of an artist\’s imprint.
[art21]But hanging boldly across the room from the poetical color field paintings and meticulous Geometric Abstraction paintings, are indulgent relics of our recent popular artistic and cultural past. The Pop Art section may not boast a deep, metaphorical value, but it has a glamorous and seductive candy-colored allure.
Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns are the most recognizable names to the general public, said Bodner. Interestingly, all three artists are considered in the Pop Art persuasion. Bodner added that the artists \”really draw people in.\”
And curiously, that has always been the case. With a genesis that seemed as evolutionary as television sets and microwaveable dinners, Pop Art\’s arrival was manifest destiny. And if art can be said to be mimetic of time and place — or at least of an artist\’s interpretation — then the Pop genre employs the prototype.
Commodify!
Carl Oxley III, a 25-year-old pop artist living in Hamtramck, Mich., said that pop art was born as a \”response to a huge boom in advertising,\” starting in England in the 50\’s. In its wake, the influence stretched to American shores and was given life in the works of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Concerning these two artists, Oxley said that the art \”became more about an artistic image that was easily recognizable to everyone due to its content. That\’s where I think it is now, something easily recognized by the masses and easy to understand.\” And it was easy to understand. That was, and still is the point.
It can be debated whether Warhol was an artistic mastermind or just an observant aesthetic narrator commenting through visual text on the idealization of Western culture. Regardless, he actively pioneered a genre and put a whole new outlook on feminist culture, Hollywood, the death penalty and condensed soup. [jessica2] In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook, edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Warhol remarked, \”the reason I\’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine.\” It’s a revolutionary idea Modernists would\’ve cringed at, and yet his work is representative of the work he produced.
Warhol\’s glittering violet silk-screen in the Kresge exhibit shows two pixilated images of Jackie Onassis Kennedy on the day of her husband\’s funeral. And even staring at it up close, there isn\’t a smudge to be found; the artist\’s hand may as well have been a machine lever. [art31] He even opened a studio called The Factory in 1962. If mass culture was to mass produce everything from Coca-cola to Brillo pads, then Warhol would be a sociological mirror. In A Sourcebook, he once said, \”a Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.\”
Recognizable images of celebrities, fatal car accidents and the thirteen most-wanted men and women who suffered fatality through a \”tuna fish disaster\” have all received treatment on Warhol\’s surface. Pop Art\’s reminder is that trousers, lipstick, computers, magazines, mineral water, etc. can be products noteworthy of being exemplified as mass produced, in high demand and ultimately as cultural vestiges of a generation. Through repetition, bright and often symbolized color choice, skewed or blurred outlines, Warhol used his world as a referential and two-dimensional color palette. And interestingly (or not), people loved it — just as they still do and most likely always will.
Currentcy
The driving force of Pop Art is its reliance on popular culture. This undercurrent seems obvious, and ultimately, it is. Unlike Modernist artists whose objective was to deter societal or political influence and penetrate their inner expressions, the Pop Artists looked to the opposite spectrum. It was ballsy, glamorous, exciting, fresh, eye-catching and obviously capitalistic. [jessica3]And the natural and resilient concept of staying current is the notion that still produces pop art today. Oxley says that he gains inspiration for his art through \”cartoons, movies, billboards, magazine ads and listening to music.\” Oxley adds that \”a lot of ideas come from conversations with people about random things, and word or statement will just stick in my head.\”
But an important factor when considering any kind of art (or writing for that matter), is that the artist is still choosing what popular images to portray. While Campbell\’s Soup or Lichtenstein\’s comic book caricatures may be openly recognizable at all hierarchical levels, the artist\’s objectivism is still active in such a discursive field. Inspiration is individualized and particular, and for Oxley, his \”biggest motivation is Happiness.\” Similarly, Emma Kruch, curator and director of East Lansing\’s (Scene) Metrospace thinks that Pop Art\’s growing phenomenon can be seen as a correlation to the original movement.
\”In the 60\’s, people were really interested in pop art and I think that today, being in a war situation, people want to look at bright colors and comic styles to make them happier,\” she said. [art41]Similarly, Oxley believes, \”There are a lot of things happening with the popular culture in America that need to be taken out of their original context, and looked at a little more closely.\” An unusual beauty that viewers can find in Pop Art is its usual light-heartedness, use of energetic colors and relatable concepts. Instead of intense symbolism or mysterious allegory, Pop Art strives to be available for the masses: familiar in the images and concepts presented- and easy to digest.
\”A lot of art I have seen lately is really conceptual or giving some dreary ‘glass-half-empty’ outlook on our world,” said Oxley. “And while this work is important for what it is, and what it says, not all art has to be this way. It\’s OK for art to be fun, or make you laugh, or just simply be nice to look at.\”
But for some, Pop Art lacks vital significance. \”Frankly, I\’m not particularly interested in pop art, and don\’t feel that it is important today, except for the prices it brings at auction,\” said Kingsley. It may be a lesson in history for some, or just an eclipsed phenomenon that\’s hay-day is over. Whichever the case, its longevity can\’t be denied. And as long as Americans continue to buy iPods, frozen pizza, those hideous furry boots, Busch Lite or even an entire cultural persona, Pop Art will continue to live on.

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