What You Need to Know About Pop Art

Know your Warhol from your Lichtenstein

Pop Art is an art movement that began in the mid-1950s in the US and UK. Inspired by consumerist culture (including comic books, Hollywood films, and advertising), Pop artists used the look and style of mass, or 'Popular', culture to make their art.

Alka Seltzer, Roy Lichtenstein, 1966 (collection of The Art Institute of Chicago)

As the rationing and austerity of the post-war 1950s changed into the swinging 1960s, Pop Art really took off.

Dollar Sign, Andy Warhol, 1981 (From the collection of Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium)

This is Andy Warhol...

Portrait of Andy Warhol (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

Perhaps the most famous and notable Pop artist, Warhol fittingly began his career in advertising before moving into visual arts. Warhol was interested in fame and money - not just making it for himself (although that too!) - but also in looking at the nature of celebrity culture and consumerism in contemporary society.

Although most renowned for his screen prints (like this one) Warhol's art practice also encompassed performance, film and even music.

Self Portrait, Andy Warhol, 1967 (From the collection ofDetroit Institute of Arts)
Brillo, Andy Warhol and published by Galerie Ronny van de Velde,1988 (From the collection of Muzeum umění Olomouc)

Pop artists cut up, used, reworked and threw together a whole variety of different pop culture references. But one dominant theme was mass production, particularly in regards to the role of the artwork in a culture of disposable objects and easily reproducible images.

Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland, Richard Hamilton, 1964 (From the Arts Council Collection)
Booster, Robert Rauschenberg, 1967 (From the collection ofNational Academy Museum & School)

Not only was Pop Art conceptually interested in mass production in its subject matter, but it also looked at mass production in its very form and materials. Screen printing, for example, plays with the easily made, easily reproduced work of art.

Orange Car Crash (5 Deaths 11 Times in Orange) (Orange Disaster), Andy Warhol, 1963 (From the collection of Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Torino)
Suitcase, Stepladder, Yayoi Kusama, 1966 (From the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama)

Pop artists reduced the world to its flat, shiny, seductive surfaces. In Roy Lichtenstein's artworks, the artist reduces the world to the 2D shapes of a comic strip.

Portrait of Roy Lichtenstein, by John Leongard (From the LIFE photo collection)
Red Barn, Roy Lichtenstein, 1969 (From the collection of Huntington Museum of Art)

In many ways, the irony and parody of Pop Art was both an extension of Dada, and a rejection of the prevailing dominance of Abstract Expressionism.

Portrait of Dolores Olmedo, David Hockney (From the collection of Museo Dolores Olmedo)

Pop Art has had a huge impact on artists right up to the present day, and is often seen as the beginning of Postmodern Art.

It has also had a huge geographical reach, influencing artists across the world. Take a look at these contemporary artworks from as far afield as Korea, Italy, and Colombia...

Untitled, Lady Aiko, 2014 - 2014 (From the collection of Outdoor Project)
Supermercado de la Septima, Santiago Cárdenas, 1966 (From the collection of Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Bogotá)
Real Materials Existing in Real Space, Jeonghwa Choi, 2010 (From the collection of the Korean Art Museum Association)

Phew! So that was Pop Art in 5 minutes!

This was just a brief introduction; continue your journey into the world of Pop Art here.

Words by Léonie Shinn-Morris
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