Pop art was one of the more distinctive expressions of modernism. Born in the1950s and 60s, the movement is usually associated with a handful of star artists from the U.K. and U.S., among whom figures like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein attained celebrity status. In formal terms pop art represented a radical reaction to the course that modernism’s various schools had been following for decades – not least artists’ desire to retain the distinction between “high culture” and “popular culture.”
Pop artists stepped back from modernism’s fondness for abstraction to embrace representational art. In doing so they worked with the stuff of pop culture – media and celebrity, advertising and mass consumption – which they imitated.
Pop art has had its critics. Those critical of the leveling uniformity created by mass production and consumption of pop culture tended to see the creation of art as something independent, indeed critical, of late 20th-century capitalism.
They saw pop art as an enthusiastic endorsement of kitsch mass culture. Pop artists like Warhol – who routinely undermined the sacral pretentions of high culture, and expressed an enthusiastic advocacy of wealth, fame, cultural uniformity and the like – as cynical creatures of celebrity culture.
Looking past the media froth churned up by Warhol et al, its possible to find considerable insights in many pop art works, to the point that some latter-day critics detect pop culture critique in much pop art. Being art – rather than political tract or anthropology – it was more likely to be wry, amusing and allusive than direct.
Gazing at the rise of the international art market – which has demonstrated itself to be impervious to economic crises that have humbled putatively productive sectors of the global economy – it’s impossible to merely discount Warhol’s embrace of art as commodity.
It’s useful to keep this business in mind when thinking about “Pop Prints from Warhol to Obey” the show up at Beirut’s Art lounge.
For its latest exhibition, the space has decided to stage a pop art retrospective comprised of a collection of limited-edition serigraphs from the era’s most prominent figures.
Naturally works by the leading pioneers of the movement, such as Warhol and Lichtenstein were included, though they were supplemented by the art from other figures as well.
Although not typically regarded as a crucial contributor to pop art, Richard Avedon’s iconic psychedelic photographs of the Beatles garnered as much as attention as any other piece in “Pop Prints.” The prints were published in the 1968 for “Look” magazine, and feature surreal solarized interpretations of the bands four members.
International artists from the likes of Tadanori Yokoo, have also been included in the show.
The work “Tribute to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec” features a stylized version of the late French painter and printmaker garbed in a kimono holding a Japanese and French flag in each hand.
Yokoo’s decision to use Toulouse-Lautrec is not too jarring considering that both were considered to have been artists whose works were both disruptive and ahead of their time.
Other works in the show endeavor to make light-hearted political statements, like that of “Obama Superman,” a 105cm x 75cm serigraph devised by French-born, Los Angeles-based street artist Mr. Brainwash. Outfitted in a Superman costume against a backdrop of the American flag, the U.S. president certainly looks patriotic to say the least.
Street art aficionados may remember this fellow to have been the ambivalent protagonist at the center of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the film by a secretive U.K. street artist named Banksy.
Set within the world of West Coast U.S. street art, Bansky’s profile effectively “outed” Mr. Brainwash as a producer of images with little originality or talent for anything more than imitation. The presence of “Obama Superman” in this show suggests the artist’s reputation is impervious to “outing.”
“Pop Prints from Warhol to Obey” provides an ample overview of movement’s works. If you’re feeling sentimental and have some loose change to spare, then you’re sure to be delighted.