Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid-1950s in Britain and the late 1950s in the United States. Among the early artists that shaped the pop art movement were Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton in Britain, and Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the United States. Pop art presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture such as advertising and news. In pop art, material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, and/or combined with unrelated material. The concept of “pop art” refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes behind the art.
Pop art employs aspects of mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. One of its aims is to use images of popular (as opposed to elitist) culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any culture, most often through the use of irony. It is also associated with the artists’ use of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques.
Pop art is widely interpreted as a reaction to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism, as well as an expansion of those ideas. Due to its utilization of found objects and images, it is similar to Dada. Pop art and minimalism are considered to be art movements that precede postmodern art, or are some of the earliest examples of postmodern art themselves.
The origins of pop art in North America developed differently from Great Britain . In the United States, pop art was a response by artists; it marked a return to hard-edged composition and representational art. They used impersonal, mundane reality, irony, and parody to “defuse” the personal symbolism and “painterly looseness” of abstract expressionism. In the U.S., some artwork by Alex Katz and Man Ray anticipated pop art.
United Kingdom: the Independent Group
The Independent Group (IG), founded in London in 1952, is regarded as the precursor to the pop art movement. They were a gathering of young painters, sculptors, architects, writers and critics who were challenging prevailing modernist approaches to culture as well as traditional views of fine art. Their group discussions centered on pop culture implications from elements such as mass advertising, movies, product design, comic strips, science fiction and technology. At the first Independent Group meeting in 1952, co-founding member, artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi presented a lecture using a series of collages titled Bunk! that he had assembled during his time in Paris between 1947 and 1949. This material of “found objects” such as advertising, comic book characters, magazine covers and various mass-produced graphics mostly represented American popular culture. One of the collages in that presentation was Paolozzi’s I was a Rich Man’s Plaything (1947), which includes the first use of the word “pop″, appearing in a cloud of smoke emerging from a revolver. Following Paolozzi’s seminal presentation in 1952, the IG focused primarily on the imagery of American popular culture, particularly mass advertising.
Although pop art began in the late 1950s, in America it was given its greatest impetus during the 1960s. The term “pop art” was officially introduced in December 1962; the occasion was a “Symposium on Pop Art” organized by the Museum of Modern Art. By this time, American advertising had adopted many elements and inflections of modern art and functioned at a very sophisticated level. Consequently, American artists had to search deeper for dramatic styles that would distance art from the well-designed and clever commercial materials. As the British viewed American popular culture imagery from a somewhat removed perspective, their views were often instilled with romantic, sentimental and humorous overtones. By contrast, American artists, bombarded every day with the diversity of mass-produced imagery, produced work that was generally more bold and aggressive.
Two important painters in the establishment of America’s pop art vocabulary were Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. While the paintings of Rauschenberg have relationships to the earlier work of Kurt Schwitters and other Dadaists, his concern was for the social issues of the moment. His approach was to create art out of ephemeral materials. By using topical events in the life of everyday America, he gave his work a unique quality.
Early U.S. exhibitions
By 1962, pop artists started exhibiting in commercial galleries in New York and Los Angeles; for some, it was their first commercial one-man show. The Ferus Gallery presented Andy Warhol in Los Angeles (and Ed Ruscha in 1963). In New York, the Green Gallery showed Rosenquist, Segal, Oldenburg, and Wesselmann. The Stable Gallery showed R. Indiana and Warhol (in his first New York show). The Leo Castelli Gallery presented Rauschenberg, Johns, and Lichtenstein. Martha Jackson showed Jim Dine and Allen Stone showed Wayne Thiebaud. By 1966, after the Green Gallery and the Ferus Gallery closed, the Leo Castelli Gallery represented Rosenquist, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichtenstein and Ruscha.