Vegetarian Vegetable from Campbell's Soup II, 1969
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987)
Screenprint; 35 x 23 in. (88.9 x 58.4 cm)
A seminal figure in the Pop Art movement of the early 1960s, Warhol, like his contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, appropriated images from American popular culture for his large-scale paintings and prints. Seeking an alternative to the highly charged canvases of the Abstract Expressionists, Warhol rendered his serial images of cultural icons and common consumer items using the commercial technique of silkscreen. This slick image of a Campbell's soup can, taken from the second of two Soup Can portfolios produced by Warhol in the late 1960s, exemplifies his increasing interest in hands-off, mass-produced works of art. Its clean, mechanical surface and perfect registration contrast with his earlier paintings, which resonate with irregularities and imperfections.
Pop Art: A Brief History
In the years following World War II, the United States enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic and political growth. Many middle class Americans moved to thesuburbs, spurred by the availability of inexpensive, mass-produced homes. Elvis Presley led the emergence of rock and roll, Marilyn Monroe was a reigning film star, and television replaced radio as the dominant media outlet.
Yet by the late 1950s and early 1960s, a “cultural revolution” was underway, led by activists, thinkers, and artists who sought to rethink and even overturn what was, in their eyes, a stifling social order ruled by conformity. The Vietnam War incited mass protests, the Civil Rights Movement sought equality for African Americans, and the women’s liberation movement gained momentum.
Inspired by the Everyday
It was in this climate of turbulence, experimentation, and consumerism that a new generation of artists emerged in Britain and America in the mid- to late-1950s. Pop artists began to look for inspiration in the world around them, representing—and, at times, making art directly from—everyday items, consumer goods, and mass media. They did this in a straightforward manner, using bold swaths of primary colors, often straight from the can or tube of paint. They adopted commercial methods likesilkscreening, or produced multiples of works, downplaying the artist’s hand and subverting the idea of originality—in marked contrast with the highly expressive, large-scaled abstract works of the Abstract Expressionists, whose work had dominated postwar American art. Pop artists favored realism, everyday (and even mundane) imagery, and heavy doses of irony and wit.
Yet Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were very aware of the past. They sought to connect fine art traditions with pop culture elements from television, advertisements, films, and cartoons. At the same time, their work challenged traditional boundaries between media, combining painted gestures with photography and printmaking; combining handmade and readymade or mass-produced elements; and combining objects, images, and sometimes text to make new meanings.
Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008)
Lithograph; 15 3/4 x 16 in. (40 x 40.6 cm)
Often considered a forerunner of the Pop Art movement, Rauschenberg has been engaged with the print medium since the early 1960s. His work, which incorporates found objects with expressionistic marks of paint, reflects his guiding philosophy that art and life should meld. For Rauschenberg, no object or material lies outside the realm of art, as evidenced in canonical works likeBed (1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Monogram(1955–58, Moderna Museet, Stockholm), in which he used old bed sheets and a stuffed goat, respectively. In his early printed work, such as this lithograph, Rauschenberg employed found photographs often borrowed from discarded newspaper printing plates. The images, mostly obscured by a system of loosely brushed marks, reveal fragments of soldiers, political figures, sporting scenes, charts, and maps.
Pop Artists absorbed and borrowed from popular culture, challenging notions of originality and what it means to be an artist.
Appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects. It is a strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, but took on new significance in mid-20th-century America and Britain with the rise ofconsumerism and the proliferation of popular images through mass media outlets from magazines to television.