The Pop Art movement burst upon the scene in the mid-1950s, challenging the conventional subject matter and techniques of the art world. By embracing popular culture while at the same time celebrating consumerism, everyday household items, as well as celebrities, became equally likely to be the focus of the Pop artist.
But Pop Art did not remain stagnant; it has evolved throughout the decades to not only reflect changes in society but to also influence them. “Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation” on display at The Reading Public Museum traces the early innovators of Pop Art, and follows its heirs as they continually push the boundaries to maintain relevance more than 60 years later.
The exhibition includes an extraordinary array of media, including sculpture, paintings, drawings, assemblages, photography, ceramics and prints. Iconic innovators of the style — Roy Lichtenstein, Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselmann — intermingle with more contemporary works by Richard Artschwager, Jim Dine, Gilbert & George, Red Grooms, Yayoi Kusama and Michelangelo Pistoletto, among others.
Pop Art is synonymous with Andy Warhol, and no Pop exhibition is complete without him. The Weisman Foundation has brought 10 of the colorful iconic “Marilyn Monroe” prints from 1967 to the museum to honor the man who many consider to be the Father of Pop Art. Other notable icons of early Pop Art included in the exhibition are Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Lichtenstein. The impact of the work from each of these pioneers during the 1960s can be seen throughout the exhibit.
As the Pop Art scene moved into the ‘70s and ‘80s, it embraced urban street culture. Graffiti art and lettering were incorporated into the art of Keith Haring, whose “Untitled” tarpaulin from 1983 dominates a wall with a street-influenced style. Similarly, work by street artist, Retna, appears to create his own visual language, a seemingly modern form of hieroglyphics.
Technology was embraced by the Pop Art movement. The use of television screens, video monitors and LED displays became more prominent. An early proponent of incorporating technology into art was Nam June Paik. From his earliest works in the 1960s to the “Michelin Man Laser Robot” (1996) on display, which uses 13 television screens projecting magnetically distorted video imagery, Paik continually has explored the connection between art and technology.
Jenny Holzer’s “Selections from the Survival Series” (1983-84) uses a hypnotic LED scroll of red diodes, spelling out provocative sayings, resembling advertising slogans. The anonymity of the messages adds to the mystery and therefore authority of the author as passersby read them. It is Holzer’s use of media and marketing techniques that give this piece relevance in the Pop movement by both embracing and critiquing the power of modern persuasion.
As Pop Art has moved into the 21st century, its ability to hold a mirror to society continues. Yoram Wolberger’s “Indian 2 (Bowman)” from 2006 presents as an oversized child’s plastic toy, used in a game of cowboys and Indians. The red plastic form dominates the gallery to transform a simple toy into a piece that poses serious social questions about the things we consider to be playthings. Again it is Pop Art pointing out society’s mixed messages and contradictions.
Mark Dean Veca’s acrylic and India ink paintings on canvas over panel from 2010, also makes statements on social and political climates. “Pennybags” and “Uncle Scrooge” uses comic book-like imagery infusing the symbols of money and greed within the characters. Using the characters from the popular Monopoly game and Disney’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck, he ties childhood memories to the adult world. Using familiar, popular imagery, Veca incorporates his own perspectives of society’s shifting priorities.
An observation one can make from visiting the “Pop Culture” exhibition is the evolution of the voice of the artists within the movement. The voice of Pop Art seems to be less hesitant to make its own statements and criticisms, it has moved from subtle messages and reflections to bold, unmistakable commentary. Walking through the nearly 70 pieces of Pop Art, spanning from the ‘60s to works only a few years old, the messages become more and more clear and unabashed.
One need not travel to major Metropolitan museums to see a finer collection of one of the most influential art movements in history. From the iconic and well known, to lesser known, emerging artists, “Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation” demonstrates the Pop Art movement’s power and its impact upon society.
“Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation” is on display through Jan. 14, 2018 at The Reading Public Museum. The museum is located at 500 Museum Road in Reading, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults (18-64), $6 for children/seniors/students (w/ID) and free to members and children three years old and younger. For more information visit their website www.readingpublicmuseum.org