CCTP-725: Cultural Hybridity/Remix Culture: Weekly Seminar Discussion
Week 6

Expanded image library slideshow for Pop art backgrounds:

Pop art appeared at a moment when high and low ("popular") culture were circulating in new ways through the mainstream media and in galleries, museums, and art discourse. The era from c.1960-c.1972 saw explicit remixing, hybridization, and appropriation from all sources in art, music, design, and graphics.

As counter-arguments for art, where high-art values emphasized "uniqueness, originality," Pop artists used repetition, serial forms, mass media imagery, commercial mediums like screen printing; where high art institutionalized the myth of "genius, unique hand of the artist, the work of art as expression of an artist's soul," Pop artists removed most of the marks of an artist's direct "touch" and subverted expectations by hand-making paintings, sculptures, and prints to look like they could have been machine-made or "anyone could make it" knowing the techniques.

The remix of materials, mediums, sources, genres, traditions, histories, and subcultures that are part of the Pop Art story provide an important case study, and an influence on ways of working that extends through today.

Warhol and other Pop artists raided the "cultural encyclopedia" and presented new kinds of imagery and works in a "high art" context that had never been done before. Pop de-aestheticized canonical art history, and aestheticized popular mass media imagery, commercial design, and commercial mediums. The rest is (our) history.


Everything is post-Rauschenberg
Pop Art as semiotics
In Arts and the Mass Media, Alloway presents Pop Art as a visual manifestation of a rich cultural network, coded to refer to popular culture. Consider Richard Hamilton’s seminal collage, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? from 1956. Looking through the image, I saw at least seven blatant displays of brand names and what looks like a television ad. There are also four different media outlets: a television, a movie theater, a newspaper and a radio. We see media and pop culture outlets as completely saturating daily life – today’s homes are different and appealing because technology in the post-industrial age allows us to access information from our living rooms. This concept makes me think of the opening credits to the current AMC drama, Mad Men, which show a man falling through images in the style of Pop Art. The show, which follows with equal weight both the goings-on of an advertising agency and the overall paradigm shift in the early 1960s as Americans found themselves increasingly immersed in popular culture.

Richard Hamilton, "Just what is it about today's homes that makes them so different, so appealing?, 1956, photo collage
Richard Hamilton, "Just what is it about today's homes that makes them so different, so appealing?, 1956, photo collage

Does appropriating an image and offering it as art strengthen or limit the image’s meaning?
Alloway points to Jasper Johns’ flag paintings to illuminate this question. Does the appropriation and repetition of an image dilute its meaning? Think of how when you repeat a word over and over, it stops sounding like a coded word and starts sounding only like an amorphous amalgam of phonemes. Warhol propagated Johns’ method. He would add a few distinct touches to a known image an present it as a new or different work of art, making us as viewers question whether he created something new or merely re-packaged an existing image in a new, interesting way. Does it matter? John Canaday wrote that the “meaning of art is to clarify, intensify or otherwise enlarge our understanding of life.” Is the simple act of making us consider an image in a different way art enough?

Jasper Johns, "Three Flags", 1958, encaustic on canvas
Jasper Johns, "Three Flags", 1958, encaustic on canvas

Honnef poses the question, “Does Pop represent one of those many variants of modern art which have continually expanded its range into previously unconsidered areas of human life, or does it mark a break with the art of the avant-garde and possibly a conscious or unconscious reversion to artistic ideas to combat which the avant-garde formed ranks in the first place?” (10)
In other words, we can look at art history as a linear progression. Each movement and development is indebted to what came before it, whether it draws on or rejects its predecessor. Is Pop Art then another stop in the evolution of art, or is it a step away from the whole progression, differentiating itself by appropriating images and themes that had not previously been considered worthy of fine art?
Honnef suggests that Pop has a foot in both camps – it fits into the avant garde, while it also seems to reject the linear progression model linked to the concept of art existing as avant garde. He points to the 1962 MoMA syposium on Pop to illustrate this dichotomy. The critics and speakers at the conference, including the seminal writer Clement Greenberg, concluded that true avant-garde – the real apotheosis of high art – is non-representational. Aesthetic standards are determined by the art itself, not by closeness to reality. Pop Art, by contrast, with its figurative representations and nods to popular culture, was judged to be conformist and bourgeois. In direct opposition to the MoMA symposium, Alloway and Pop artists accepted industrial and popular culture and assimilated it into their art.

"For me, there's no difference between art and life."
- Rauschenberg

“Signs, then, are not dead”
– Umberto Eco

Robert Rauschenberg: Riding Bikes, 1960

In a 1962 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) panel discussion, prominent members of the art world came together to discuss what had become a revolutionary movement. Said Henry Geldzahler,

“… the phenomenon of pop art was inevitable. The popular press, especially, and most typically Life magazine, the movie close-up, black and white, technicolor and wide screen, the billboard extravaganzas, and finally the introduction, through television, of this blatant appeal to our eye into the home – all this has made available to our society, and thus to the artist, an imagery so pervasive, persistent and compulsive that it has been noticed.” (A Symposium on Pop Art, 1962)

Geldzahler points to the changes in technology, networks and the beginning of the hyperreal effecting society collectively, including its artists. Engaging these changes through art using the readily accessible images from mass media is what came to define pop art. Artists of the pop art movement used artifacts, materials and images from mass culture in their work. This was not just post-Abstract Expressionism; it was a movement reacting to, rebelling against it.
Members of the pop art movement did this for a reason. In a society “ceaselessly exposed to mass media”, our “primary visual data are for the most part secondhand” (A Symposium on Pop Art, 1962). Artists began making art out of what they saw, in a sense representative of what daily images so many people had become exposed to. The myth of the artist – that s/he stands apart from society, sitting and observing, commenting on from afar – was in the process of being debunked. Another assumption about art had been that it must, for the most part, be taken very seriously, that ideas expressed within this medium should hold great weight and be by definition hard to access by most people. In this way the art world had been elitist in a very traditionalist way. The art world has been mistrustful of art that was readily accessible, and so pop art was at first rejected for its use of images that came from the common body of mass media (Think Warhol’s Marlyn Monroe or Liz Taylor).

Warhol's Liz, 1963

Another first: for the first time in history “there exists a machinery, dealers, critics, museums, collectors …” (A Symposium on Art, 1962). Art was becoming big business. The artist was a member of consumerism and mass media him/herself. Umberto Eco talks about a cultural encyclopedia or dictionary of signs within a cultural context; pop art drew from this “common body” of objects, images and ideas. But, (this is Geldzahler’s take), artists (at least the good ones) made decisions about the combination of elements within the common body or cultural encyclopedia that were uniquely theirs.

In this sense pop art during the 1950’s and 60’s blurred the lines between fine art and commercial art (Irvine_pop art ppt). Art became the appropriation of images within the common body of signs. The form, content and indeed audience of this new genre were a direct affront to the cannon of Abstract Expressionism. Photographs, comic strips, billboards, plastic, mass production … all of these became integral features of the pop art movement. It took images and ideas out of their usual context and reframed or repurposed them in such a way that audiences could look upon the images with fresh eyes. Particularly, the art of this period raised questions about the function of art in society. If art was not sacred, was not confined to the art world, then it was big business – something it hadn’t been before.

Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955-59. Freestanding combine

British artist Richard Hamilton compiled a table of characteristics of pop art in an attempt to outline a set of characteristics by which to identify pop art. Pop art is popular, transient, witty, sexy, low cost, mass produced, young, glamorous, big business. The pop artist’s attitude is one of “pseudo-sincerity”, indicating the introduction of irony and humor into to genre.

Many credit Rauschenberg as being the first to introduce the notion that art can be absolutely anything (Kimmelman, Art out of Anything: Rauschenberg in Retrospect). This is a paradigm change in the way art is thought about, but today we take this change for granted. For many people born after the apex of pop art, art as anything is just what we’ve come to expect. Shock value is de rigueur. But Rauschenberg is one of the pioneers of this frame of mind. Art can exist anywhere, last forever or for a moment, can have a purpose or none at all. Rauschenberg can be said to have chosen elements within the cultural encyclopedia which had not previously been combined before. Like Walt Whitman, Rauschenberg saw the beauty in everyday life, even in the ugly (Kimmelman, Art of out Anything: Rauschenberg in Retrospect). The appropriation of junk and discarded objects provokes questions regarding conceptions of beauty. Like Warhol, Rauschenberg owed a lot to Abstract Expressionism because of his work is a result of its rejection.

Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953

Post Pop Art?

Pop art has had a huge impact on our understanding of art today. Diversity is the norm, while grand movements like Impressionism and Modernism are old fashioned, not because they occurred a long time ago, but rather because they were discrete movements with overarching ideologies (Knight, Forget ‘isms’ – Except Eclecticism). We can think of the new trend in art as being one in which anything goes. Above all, the concept is what is valued. What can one say through one’s work? Artists like Rauschenberg “undermined art’s established structure” (Knight, Forget ‘isms’ – Except Eclecticism). They broke down the conventional hierarchies between high and low art. In the generations succeeding the pop art revolution, what can be said about whether or not we are still creating pop art? Certainly, artists continue to borrow from the ideas put forth by this movement.

Lady Gaga at the airport

Lady Gaga promoting album Born this Way on Good Morning America, February 2011


Do you consider the work of Lady Gaga to be exemplary (or paying tribute to) pop art?

What is the relation between the terms ‘pop art’ and ‘pop artist’?

Do all contemporary pop artists create pop art? If only some of them do, why? If none do, why?

“Our definition of culture is being stretched beyond the fine art limits imposed on it by Renaissance theory, and refers now, increasingly, to the whole complex of human activities.” (Alloway)

Could it be pop art is appealing because it is deceptively superficial? It can be something pretty to look at without having to think about how it relates to other works of art. it can stand on its own--its superficiality allows it that luxury. But the lovely thing about pop art is, once you scratch the surface, there are layers. In the PBS documentary on Andy Warhol's life, it is stated that the artist’s personality underwent a great change in the months following his move to the Silver Factory. He once stated, “__If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and my films. And there I am. There’s nothing behind it.__” He became almost personality-less in order to allow others to create the Andy Warhol they imagined. Others’ ideas were projected onto him, creating the Andy Warhol of American popular myth. Underneath the superficiality, there was logic. So it was with his art, and Pop Art in general.
One doesn’t necessarily have to be competent with the cultural encyclopedia, which in part prompted the Pop Art movement, in order to enjoy the art. However, as Umberto Eco says, “...a sign itself...becomes fully meaningful only when it is inserted within a larger context” (Eco 37). Erased de Kooning Drawing by Mark Rauschenberg--a fore runner of the Pop Art movement--only has meaning if it is placed within the context of Abstract Expressionism. So it was with Pop Art. Only when it is considered in conjunction with the artistic and social worlds which affected and inspired its creation do the works of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg (among others) take on their full meaning. But although such competence with the cultural encyclopedia of our time is not necessary to simply appreciate works of the Pop Art movement, it does open up a whole new world of depth and meaning in a commercial society which is supposedly superficial to the extreme.


"The popular arts of our industrial civilization are geared to technical changes which occur, not gradually, but violently and experimentally." - L. Alloway
Pop art is without a doubt, one of the largest cultural reshapings in art history, with residual effects still felt in "high" and "low" art today. It's clear that its backlash to abstract expressionism spawned a huge shift in both popular culture but also how we come to view art and hybridization. When you observe art before Pop Art in America specifically, much of its technical and content capacity is epitomizes the process and the artist, placing subjective perspective above constructed content. The whole idea behind personal interpretation and sort of high art's "grandeur" is something that was reversed and ultimately redined. Pop Art really helped to loosen the boundaries between many of the hybrid theories that we have touched upon, rather than adapting incremental shifts in medium, content, method like art forms before it, it directly and brutishly draws from universal content.

This is perhaps one of the rebellions that has really fractured the mythos of art. You can see it even today in the sort of high-browed approach to formal art, and the habitual appreciation given to artists and art that embodies a high aesthetic. Oftentimes we are mystified by a work of art's technique, and its separation from what one could potentially do (Pop art is tongue-in-cheek approach to this mentality of "I could do that"). So ultimately we come back to this question of defining the image and the cultural encyclopedia. Gone are the days when the lines between high and low art were so easily parsed. Instead we approach an aesthetic of the everyday, essentially bumping art critics down a few rungs, and pushing society up a few rungs.

However, it seems that pop art, while it has been successful in relegating traditional art to a less elevated position, really asks a deeper question that we've looked at in class many times, which is essentially what makes a work that a hybrid, or a remix a stand-alone object? Is it being the first? Is it being the most tongue-in-cheek?

I love this guy, Takashi Murakami, selling multi-million dollar pieces, putting on shows in castles, and still making a huge chunk of change producing keychaings and novelties.

- Lian Han

Saaret Yoseph:

“Both words were taken up by so many people and used so promiscuously that Pop Art was de-aestheticized and re-anthropologized.” -- L. Alloway


As Alloway points out, conventions in art appraisal become problematic when a product of the majority is scrutinized by minority assumptions. What then is the framework for identifying and analyzing popular culture and art? In past class sessions, we’ve been careful not to contain hybridity and quick to denounce secular models of thought. Yes, intertextuality and technological advances have a great deal to do with blurring the lines, but I do believe there should be some degree of demarcation. What is mass art and what is it not? I struggle to answer that question, myself, though I still think asking is essential. Alloways determines mass art to be both democratic and “urban,” while allowing his discussions of Pop Art to spill over into its historical evolution and expanding caveats. Where it has succeeded (NYC) and where it hasn’t (London) only further complicates the matter of locking down a definition. Much like Richard Hamilton, as he casually wrote of Pop Art in a letter to the Smithsons, I think it may be helpful to subdivide the genre in ways that better define the whole and point to what pieces of popular art fit into popular culture, fine art and/or both. For one, where does mass produced, mass consumed street art fit in the mix? As a movement that is innately counterculture, though increasingly embraced by the mainstream, where does it lie on the spectrum?

“In fact, stylistically, technically, and iconographically the mass arts are anti-academic ... Sensitiveness to the variables
of our life and economy enable the mass arts to accompany the changes in our life far more closely than the fine arts
which are a repository of time-binding values.” -- L. Alloway

In keeping with idea that mass art (as opposed to Pop Art?) is self-referential amalgamation of popular objects and images, I mulled over the movie "Tropic Thunder" and tried to consider where it lies within the fray. Certain parts, especially the confusion over "what's real" speak to past discussions on simulated life and the spectacle, but I personally, am curious as to whether this can stand as an artifact of Pop Art or not. Random, I know, but I saw it for the first time this weekend and got a little to immersed in meanings behind the comedy.

While reading “The Arts and Mass Media,” I noticed that Alloway ends with a conciliatory statement, bridging the gap between high and low by concluding that fine art should be inclusive of mass art. Does this muddle the issue at all? Can fine art stand by definition if popular culture moves from the outside in? And does a product of the masses, in any way, lose power once recognized by the minority?

“The democratization of history (like the sociological study of mass communications) leads to an increase of complexity
in the material to be studied, making it bulge inconveniently beyond the classical scope of inquiry.” -- L. Alloway

The description of popular culture provided by Alloway in “Pop Art and Popular Culture” as “a network of messages and objects that we share with others.” underlines the innately social function by which mass art is produced and consumed. Similarly, the ubiquity of objects and images in popular culture facilitate works within Pop Art that both directly and unintentionally speak to one another; demonstrating, as Alloway notes the aesthetic confluence of “separate artists on shared subjects.”

If altermodern art embodies an already existing remix then Alloway is correct is asserting popular art as “a partial sample of the world’s continuous relationships.” While I full-heartily accept this notion, where I feel the tension lies is in our dealings with the such works once a culture network of connectivity is recognized. Unlike Alloway, I am not satisfied by simply observing that “the cluster is enough.”

Jess Perlman

In the Symposium on Pop Art held in December of 1962, Geldzahler echoes both Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, “art has carried on a dialogue with itself, art leads to art, and with internal sequence. This is true still, even with the external references pop art makes to the observed world”. While many of the critics share a distaste for the “new” art, Kunitz seems most disturbed by the new form, equating it almost exclusively with commercialism and advertising only. Lichtenstein is a perfect example of an artist whose primary messaging has little to do with commercialism - many of his paintings gained notoriety for political commentary or implied aversions to then current tactics.

external image roy_lichtenstein_whaam.jpgBoth Takka Takka (as referenced in Honnef’s Pop Art, p. 52) and Whaam are pretty clear rejections of efforts in the Vietnam War. Works of this type immediately challenge critics like Hilton Kramer who suggest that “Pop art does not tell us what if feels like to be living through the present moment of civilization.” The “shudder” or lens that Steinberg speaks of is clearly visible in Lichtenstein’s works. We are made to see not only the image that the artist has put before us, but our mindset or opinions are often dictated by the shudder that is part and parcel for art of this genre.

I believe that the lens through which art has always, and will always be viewed is an essential element in the conception of the piece on the whole - this is driven by the artist’s rendering and comment on the subject. The task is even more important when the art is being consumed with such immediacy. The onus is even greater to make an impact with the commentary one puts forth. I disagree completely with Hilton’s statement that pop art is merely exhibition of current society and does not provide a pulse of the civilization living in it.

external image saltz1-25-3.jpg
Even artists who take a different approach, Warhol as a classic example of the more “commercial” with his soup cans and Brillo pads, create a different shudder by means of multiple or repetitive exposures. Alloway understands the influence of repetition, “An important factor in communication in the mass arts is high redundancy.” While Warhol’s soup cans may have ultimately helped Campbells turn a greater profit, the intention of repetition and subject selection was primarily a statement about our consumerist mass culture as reflected through an artistic shudder. The layout of 200 cans much as they would appear in a supermarket was a conscious example of that shudder.

While critics may have found fault with many elements of pop art, from the shudder to the sheer rate that pop art rocketed into art history, it is undeniable that it was part of a dramatic shift in art culture and consumption, certainly in the United States, but in Europe as well.

Zachary Allard

Pop Art’s history and discussion of the birth of the Pop Art movement and its origins was tremendously evocative of Banksy’s film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Pop Art details the suspicion that the scene was treated with by many in the fine art world during its early years. The Pop Artists took the ephemera of mass/bourgeois culture and re-contextualized it into some sort of artistic artifact. One critic wrote of Pop Art declaring that it attempted to, “reconcile us to a world of commodities, banalities and vulgarities.” Time and criticism ultimately vindicated the Pop Artists. Rauchenberg, Warhol, and Lichtenstein are widely respected and displayed in many museums.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film directed by Banksy that details some of the movers and shakers in the street art scene of the last fifteen years before veering into very different territory during the third act. The first two acts follow a man named Thierry Guetta who was (allegedly) a store owner who begins recording street artists, eventually even getting to film the notorious Banksy. For the uninitiated, Banksy is the most prominent “street artist” working today--though that moniker hardly does his level of fame or his work justice. In many ways, the critical and commercial response to his work can only be compared to that of Warhol. These first two acts follow a very traditional documentary format showing what appears to be non-contrived footage of very street artists and their work. The third act enters territory that becomes questionable. At the suggestion of Banksy, this store owner and would-be documentarian starts creating art of his own. Without going into too many details, he becomes wildly successful under his new name, Mr. Brainwash, creating vast piles of uninspired/derivative art.
It would take too long to fully delineate why Mr. Brainwash’s work is terrible; aside from that, I lack the background. However, three of the pieces prominently displayed in the film should suffice for my purposes. He displays prints of Elvis holding an M-16 that are essentially the same idea/style of Ray Johnson’s or Warhol’s. He has multiple statue/sculptures including a robot made of televisions in the style of Rauschenberg. Lastly, he has several Campbell’s soup can related images and sculptures and even created an album cover for Madonna in the style of Warhol’s portraits of Monroe. Alloway writes, “Pop Art deals with material that already exists as signs: photographs, brand goods, comics, that is to say, with pre-coded material … The subject matter of Pop Art, at one level, is known to the spectator in advance of seeing the use.” To put it simply, Mr. Brainwash is terrible because he is not using pre-coded material or signs but re-appropriating whole works of art for himself!
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(See the resemblance?)

Celebrity ignorance aside, a formal analysis of his work would take far too long for this post. Suffice it to say, that unlike the Pop Artists who recontextualized/shifted mass ephemera to create something new, Mr. Brainwash appears to be merely copying the exact pieces/styles of better artists. Both Banksy and Shepard Fairey are not only unimpressed but disgusted by his work and the success he has found. Now, there are many reasons to believe Mr. Brainwash to be a creation of Banksy’s mad genius. Proving it here would take far too long but everything from his name, to his lack of a verifiable personal history, to the title of the film, to Banksy’s direction of it point to Mr. Brainwash being an elaborate prank/statement/insult to the contemporary art scene.
Pop Art gained recognition and respect because it brought a breath of fresh air into the fine art scene. In a world obsessed with being anti-bourgeois and anti-populist, it brought mass culture into the fine art scene and recontextualized/shifted it somewhat. Long ago accepted as a legitimate movement, Exit Through the Gift Shop appears to question the entire art scene that has emerged since Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein. Interestingly, Mr. Brainwash encounters nothing but fiscal success and even a certain amount of critical success, which-- even if the film is taken at face vaule--Banksy is throwing in the art world’s face.
Pop Art describes the Pop Art movement as essentially, “apolitical,” but Banksy--one of their heirs apparent--most certainly is not. In the film, he is shown placing an inflatable doll of a Guantanamo detainee at Disneyland. If one accepts that Mr. Brainwash is one of his creations, then the whole film/man is a powerful political/social/artistic statement. His financial success in farming out ideas to craftspeople and being remarkably successful while doing so is a clear implication of capitalism, the gallery scene, and the bourgeois mindset writ large. The tremendous success of his shows and the buzz they created (especially in America) is another implication of social ignorance of art. Lastly, the success of someone creating art that merely channels the ideas of other artists as an elaborate critique from one of the best known artists working today demonstrates the feckless nature and ignorance of the art scene and paints the fine art scene as broken at best.

This is something I will likely explore at greater length in my final project, but it certainly seems that one of Banksy’s (many) critiques is that the art world took the wrong lessons from the Pop Art movement or even fundamentally misunderstood (and continue to misunderstand) it.The truth (such as we can gather) is undoubtedly more complicated, but that appears to be one of his many arguments.

Jessica Gesund

At one point in college, perhaps after taking 1 or 2 classes from the English department, I incorporated the idea that the closest we’ll get to understanding the reality of what it was to live at a certain time is through art. Modernist struggled to establish the idea that objective truth, if it ever existed was dead, that the current conditions of society and the loss of any previous ontological grounds made it clear that truth could only be subjective. They transported this to the canvas, struggling to find ways that would come closer to allowing them to depict their reality allowing the spectator to take an active part in the construction of this reality. From what we’ve covered of Post-modernism so far it seems that the period has been marked by the abandonment of even this seek for a subjective truth, by the recognition that even within oneself there are a multiplicity of realities, of elements which are considered truths but are made out of a multiplicity of constructions.

In our last class, however, we discussed an idea that makes me think that perhaps by observing the art of the postmodernists we can indeed come to understand a part of the reality of what it was to live at their time and still is to live today, to understand that their reality is a reality which has been composed out of manufactured images, of simulacrums. The objects and images which the postmodernists met in the mass media and which they have depicted in several ways in their works, are the reality of the postmodernist artist and of ourselves, they are the images through which we construct our reality and they are the only way of illustrating the real, which is that there is no real which has not been constructed for consumption. Their work, as Alloway argues, portrays the recognition of an art which nurtures itself from life and from the images which have defined the reality of what it is to live in a post-industrialized society. But according to Alloway, pop artists took this concept further. Because for them art is no longer considered to be isolated from mass culture, and like in Warhol’s work, it becomes part of the processes of endless reproduction of mass culture’s imagery, mass culture itself is considered art: “The mass media were entering the work of art and the whole environment was being regarded, reciprocally, by the artists as art, too”. Both Warhol and Rauschenberg seem to toy with this blurring of boundaries between art and mass culture, art and life in a mass culture society. Warhol seems to take this concept further through his 1963 Double Mona Lisa, where he toys with the idea of art as another mass produced image, by reproducing this image which, as Ganis notes “is one of the world's most reproduced images, as it has been used in advertising, consumer products, and art history, as a symbol for the infinitely more complex ideas of purity, love, the Louvre, 'high' culture, art, painting, and the Italian Renaissance”.Thus he seems to note that art ceazes to just depict the images of mass consumption which construct our current reality, but rather, since the boundaries between mass media and art have been blurred, just as mass media can be art, art can be turned into the imagery of mass media.

by Alicia Dillon

To discuss the expansive historical, creative, and commercial reach of Pop art in its entirety would be an unrealistic task. However, honing in on how Pop was received in its own time, and how it has henceforth allowed for a particular type of art making to “count” is a productive space for considering what we are today able to refer to as the remix.

First, this Art:21 compilation which was produced as an eulogy to Rauschenberg is a useful visual overview of his life’s work-- a necessary foundation for entering the “post-Rauschenberg" space.

The dueling perspectives behind the reception of Pop Art is perhaps best brought to light through essays. Art critic Lawrence Alloway The Arts and the Mass Media is particularly helpful in its discussion of culture. The piece was Alloway’s response to Greenberg’s Avant Guard and Kitsch, a seminal work which sought to separate what constitutes high and low art. In it, Alloway most importantly seeks to locate Pop within the greater rhetoric, but also to call into question the very possibility of high vs. low. Where as for Greenberg culture is very much aligned with elite society, Alloway sees culture more broadly, and defines it thusly as, “the whole complex of human activities.” Furthermore, for him, the hedonistic thread present in Western culture which is first present in commodities is carried through in the mass-arts-- the same sleek, erotic, clean lined images are read in art as they are in culture. Thus inferring that perhaps we must not only understand art within culture, but understand it within its specific belief systems as well.

Campbell's Soup Can 1964 Silkscreen on canvas 35 3/4 x 24 in Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Campbell's Soup Can 1964 Silkscreen on canvas 35 3/4 x 24 in Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Actual Campbell's Tomato Soup can
Actual Campbell's Tomato Soup can

Michael Freid’s ‘Art and Objecthood’ is an interesting context through which to consider the role of the Pop Art object versus the object itself, such as say Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can vs. the physical can itself: when artists represent a mass produced commodity, what is it that might separate the two objects ideologically? Pop Art deals with many of the same concerns we are facing within the arts today, inasmuch as it called into question the function of mechanical reproduction in art. Was it necessary for the hand of the artist to be present? Pop sought to mechanize art, to reflect mass-produced commodity culture. Following Abstract Expressionism-- coming in response to the painterly “of the medium” drips of Jackson Pollock, was one of the first movements to readily disregard both the hand of the artist as something which establishes authenticity.

Moreover, Pop was one of the first movements to re-appropriate photographic imagery in an act of cross cultural pollination, and, in mixing high and low, create a new hybrid methodology. It is for this reason which Pop continues to influence our understanding of “what counts” in art today. In discussing the conflation of politics and art, in response to a question posed in 1970 Artforum, artist Jo Baer wrote, “Art which mirrors the present moves in a different way, from another cause and towards another effect. Its mainspring is the status quo. It is unidealized, displaying both the good and bas aspects of the now.” And so today, this often ironic re-appropriation and recycling continues in culture and the arts. The high-low of Hipster culture standing as only one such example of society’s perpetual mixing; with the movement itself in jeopardy should these extra-textual references of ages past be taken away.

Finally, Pop cannot be mentioned today without too mentioning the name Jeff Koons:

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog
Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog