How can such a short, three-lettered word possess so many meanings? From carbonated sodas to music genres to loud noises, the homonym thrills with its transitional properties. My favorite definition of “pop”, however, relates to the eclectic art movement.
A brief description of Pop art: The movement commenced in Britain in the mid-1950s, and crossed over to the United States in the latter half of the decade. Artists assimilated elements of popular culture into their works, such as advertising, celebrities and comic book figures. Highlighting objects stemming from mass culture directly contrasted with finer art periods preceding the movement. Sophisticated ladies laughing gleefully while swinging across France’s pastoral landscapes were truly passé (my apologies, Fragonard). The postwar United States became ever-more commercial, and some artists found relief in shining light on its increasing superficiality – no matter how pristine and beautiful its products (including humans – cosmetics, anyone?) became.
A quick run through New York’s Museum of Modern Art during Labor Day weekend brought me face-to-face with one of Pop art’s greatest masters: Andy Warhol. Known for his colorful prints and silk screens, the Pittsburgh native’s works still garner attention in today’s even more commercial world.
The MoMA’s impressive collection included Campbell’s Soup Cans and 10 screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. For a moment, I was stunned by the overwhelming, repetitive nature of the pieces – a few minute alterations in soup ingredients or cosmetic colors failed to distinguish each work at first sight.
But isn’t that the point? I discovered the only way to truly appreciate Warhol is when completely surrounded by his works. Until then, a single Warhol piece is but a remnant of a collection meant to evoke feelings of smallness, and even inferiority, caused by the paralyzing effects of commercialism.
Even in 2015, the long gone original Campbell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe (may she rest in peace) reminded me that mainstream reigns supreme. I felt irrelevant compared to these two archaic images, despite snapping photos of them on my iPhone (to be later posted on Instagram). Perhaps this feeling explains Warhol’s longevity – we haven’t changed much as a society, after all.
Next time you’re in New York, make sure to stop by the MoMA. Showcasing works from van Gogh to Dalí to Calder, the museum boasts quite the collection spanning centuries of artistic movements. Don’t forget to peruse the gift shop on your way out!
‘Til next time,