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August 9th, 2006
'Pop' Goes the Art in Gallery 119 This Summer

Pop Art and its Affinities on View Through June 2007 (Gallery 119)

August 9, 2006 –Drawing on its exceptionally rich and diverse holdings in modern and contemporary art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Pop Art and its Affinities, a selection of works in the Pop Art and Op Art tradition of the 1960s and early '70s on view through June 2007. This exhibition captures a pivotal moment in the history of American art, when artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg responded to the explosion of post-war mass culture by appropriating imagery from billboards, newspapers, films, comic books, and other mass media – what was described by artist James Rosenquist as “the world of supermarket junk and plenty.” Often identified with a youthful energy and a democratic disregard for the distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ subject matter, the Pop art movement brought artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein into the mainstream culture of the 1960s and '70s, and continues to reverberate in the visual art scene of today.

Part of an international group that originated in London and New York, American Pop artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg incorporated the visual vocabulary of everyday objects into their works. Like Robert Rauschenberg and other predecessors, Pop artists’ use of commercial materials and techniques like silkscreening challenged the distinctions between fine art and graphic design. Their works raised provocative questions about the nature of creativity and originality in the age of mass production and the widespread dissemination of ‘popular’ culture, from which the Pop art school derives its name.

Roy Lichtenstein’s oil and magna on canvas Still Life with Goldfish (1974) takes its inspiration from Henri Matisse’s paintings of the same subject matter, but employs the visual approach of a comic book, with its bold lines and bright colors emphasizing the flat, two-dimensional nature of the painting as object, rather than creating the illusion of something real. “Even if I'm painting a room, it's an image of a room that I got from a furniture ad in a phone book, which is a two-dimensional source,” Lichtenstein has said.

Warhol’s Four Jackies (1964) is typical of the artist’s unorthodox approach to portraiture, in which he frequently employed photographs of celebrities from magazines and other media to reinforce the idea of a subject’s public image, rather than try to create a more intimate view of the individual. Four Jackies combines four photographs taken of the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy that appeared in media accounts following the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy, in 1963. In this work Warhol has cropped the photos to focus on Mrs. Kennedy, which serves to highlight and intensify the sense of numbness and repetition invoked by mass media coverage of this national tragedy.

Pop Art and its Affinities also includes paintings by Op artists, who emerged in the early 1960s and like the Pop artists incorporated elements from both art historical and popular imagery in their work. Influenced in part by Josef Albers’s exploration of color theory, Op artists designed abstract, geometrical paintings with repeated patterns that appear to vibrate, pulsate, advance, or recede, creating the illusion of depth and movement. Op artists such as Philadelphian Edna Andrade, as well as Richard Anuszkiewicz were among the first to base their work entirely upon optical impressions examined in the science of perceptual psychology, such as the after-image and chromatic vibration.

Andrade, born in 1917, trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the University of Pennsylvania and continues to be a strong presence in the city's art scene. Influenced by such modernist painters such as Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Josef Albers, her paintings employ circles, triangles, squares, and pentagons to create an active physical and visual engagement with the viewer. Works like Andrade’s Color Motion 4-64 (1964), a mesmerizing assemblage of black and white squares on a canvas divided into four separate quadrants, underscore the physiological act of seeing rather than conveying an emotion or narrative. The visual vocabulary of Andrade and other Op artists anticipates much of today’s computer-generated art as well as the work of contemporary artists, architects, and graphic designers.

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