When we speak about the emergence of different art movements in history, there is a perfect German word that can help us to understand why and how a certain movement appeared and how it evolved. This word is Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist literally means “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the time”, and it can be defined as an intellectual fashion that influences the culture of a particular period in time. So, in this article, we are briefly taking a look at the emergence and the evolution of the famous Pop Art Movement. It’s impossible to even begin to understand this movement if we don’t have an historical context explained when the movement actually emerged. That is why we mentioned Zeitgeist, and why is it important to understand the “spirit of the time” of the 1950s.
After the horrors that Europe experienced during the Second World War, in the coming years (particularly in the beginning of the 1950s), a strong sense of optimism began to characterize the Western Europe societies, but also the United States. With strong economic developments countries like United Kingdom, France and the US began to experience, societies embraced a consumeristic culture – a trend often called “post-war consumer boom”. On the other hand, cultural trends began to change as well – with Elvis Presley in the US, and the Beatles in the UK (a couple of years later), a big cultural rebellion started against the dominant traditional cultural patterns. As a consequence, something that is called mass-production or mass-culture emerged, and it paved the way for the emergence of the Pop Art Movement.
Both the United States and Western European countries saw an unprecedented political and economic growth during the 1950s and in the beginnings of the 1960s. This growth was followed by a cultural revolution, personified in Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and many others. The television replaced radio as the dominant media outlet, and so on. When it comes to the dominant art movement of this period, the ideas of Abstract Expressionism were dominating the contemporary art scene. Although abstract expressionism was dominating postwar American art, it was the first American art movement to achieve global acclaim. Therefore, the emergence of the Pop Art movement in both America and the UK has been always described as a reaction against Abstract Expressionist painting. Lichtenstein once stated:
Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.
The word POP was first coined in 1954, by the British art critic Lawrence Alloway, to describe a new type of art that was inspired by the imagery of popular culture. Alloway, Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi founded the Independent Group, a collective of artists, architects, and writers who explored radical approaches to contemporary visual culture during their meetings in London between 1952 and 1955. They became the forerunners to British Pop Art movement. These groups of the forerunners of British Pop Art began to blur the line (through their art practice) between the fine art and consumerism, between fine art and mass-culture.
Although the same social, cultural and political context characterized the social and cultural dynamics in the US and the UK, the emergence of the Pop Art movement in these two countries was marked with different artistic groups and practices. We already mentioned the Independent Group in the UK. Speaking of the emergence of the American Pop Art, it appeared a bit later (compared to the UK). By directly confronting the basic ideas of the Abstract Expressionism, the first American Pop Art artists (emerged in the end of 1950s) completely blurred the boundaries between "high" art and "low" culture. American Pop Artists were more “aggressive”, aiming to create art inspired by everyday items, consumer goods, and mass media. What is also interesting when we speak about the Pop Art movement in America is the fact that the majority of the Pop Art pioneers were associated with the Neo-Dada movement. Indeed, Neo-Dada had a big influence on first American Pop Artists’ style and technique.
Soon after its emergence, Pop Art became really popular, and one of the leading art movements of the era. During the first years of the 1960s, first major exhibitions of the Pop Art Movement took place. In 1960, Martha Jackson showed installations and assemblages, New Media - New Forms featured Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine and May Wilson. 1961 was the year of Martha Jackson's spring show, Environments, Situations, Spaces. Warhol held his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in July 1962 at Irving Blum's Ferus Gallery, where he showed 32 paintings of Campell's soup cans, one for every flavor. Finally, Roy Lichtenstein’s work and its use of parody, probably defines the basic premise of Pop Art movement better than any other.
Everything is beautiful. Pop is everything is a famous quote by Warhol. It perfectly describes the Pop Artist’s strong commitment to the basic concepts of the Pop Art Movement. Pop Art reached its peak in the mid-1960s, but would continue to influence artists in later decades, with artists like Andy Warhol being a huge inspiration for generations of new artists. Pop Art movement lost some of its credibility during the 1970s, as the art world shifted focus from art objects to installations, performances, and other less tangible art forms. However, with the revival of painting at the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, the art object came back into favor once again, and popular culture provided new subject matters. Neo-Pop emerged at the end of the 1980s. When it comes to the popularity of the Pop Art among art collectors, just take a look at auction results. It’s been always popular, not only among collectors, but among art lovers as well.
Featured Image: Roy Lichtenstein - Crak, detail. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.