POP off: How pop art changed the world

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pop art changed world

For you, the term “pop art” probably immediately brings to mind Andy Warhol’s pictures of Campbell’s soup cans or Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoon-style “Whaaam!” artwork. Indeed, these are two especially well-known examples of pop art that changed the world in the Fifties and Sixties. 

While pop art – as it initially emerged – typified the consumerist, low-culture society of these eras, it was a movement met with controversy; some commentators hailed it as revolutionary and others scotched it as vulgar. For better or worse, however, pop art was world-changing – and here are several ways it was…

Building an impressive body… of art 

“Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” English artist Richard Hamilton asked in 1956, as quoted by British GQ. He provided something of an answer with his now-iconic collage “This is Tomorrow”, which was produced that year and features a cutout of a Fifties bodybuilder in a living-room setting. 

The bodybuilder in question had won the 1954 bodybuilding contest “Mr. LA” – and “This is Tomorrow”, of which he was the focal point, was one of the earliest artworks to be deemed pop art. At the time, it was considered groundbreaking as a piece of art for strongly incorporating elements of consumer culture.

Warhol shows a can-do attitude… with Campbell’s soup cans 

While Andy Warhol was not exactly the first American pop artist, he remained instrumental in helping to bring pop art to mainstream attention in the United States. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1928, as Far Out explains – and, in 1949, he relocated to New York City to work in magazine illustration and advertising. 

In 1962, however, he was struggling to decide on a niche subject for an art piece – until a friend suggested that he paint soup cans. The resulting work, inspired by that of Liechtenstein, was “Campbell’s Soup Cans” – a painting that used screen-printing to produce images of thirty-two similar-looking… yes, soup cans.

Pop art’s place in today’s world  

Pop art remains an influential force in the modern day. In 2014, the Saatchi Gallery in London broke from its usual tradition of displaying works from Charles Saatchi’s art collection and instead brought together pieces from both well-known and little-known artists in the exhibition Post Pop: East Meets West.

In a review of this show, Londonist remarked that it “felt like a homage from Charles Saatchi to pop art – a movement that started us on the road to sensationalism and resulted in Saatchi’s success as an art dealer and collector.” 

It’s a sharp contrast to the situation in 1966, when another London-based art institution, the Tate Modern, acquired Lichtenstein’s “Whaaam!” painting but many of the gallery’s own trustees – including Barbara Hepworth – opposed the purchase, with this piece at the time splitting the art world.

It’s also telling that, over the years, Saatchi has collected a large number of Warhol pieces – including depictions of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe and Chinese communist revolutionary Chairman Mao. These pieces and many others can be seen on Charles Saatchi’s website.

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