After Modernism, Week 2 – Pop Art and Consumerism

This week our lecture covered Pop Art and consumerism, beginning with the comparison between these two images.


Kenneth Noland, Gift, 1961-2                                   Jasper Johns, Target with Plaster Cast, 1955

The discussion that followed addressed the key difference between these two pieces. The main difference is that of context, associations and relation with the outside world, ‘Target with Plaster Cast, 1955′ relates the piece to the body of the artist – and so makes reference outside of itself, whereas ‘Gift, 1961-2′ addresses only itself.

The Pop Art movement emphasised the importance of relating art back to everyday life, directly addressing the popular imagery and consumerist values of a changing society, this dramatically differed to the values of the Abstract Expressionists and of Clement Greenberg holding the view that paint should only address paint and not directly make outward references.

Pop Art and consumerism

A commodity = material + labour + a market

Christo Pousette, Packed Supermarket Cart, 1963

Sylvie Fleury, ELA 75/K Easy, Breezy Beautiful No. 6, 2000

A key focus of the Pop Art movement was the exploration of consumerism and its values, many Pop artists looked to make a comment on the changes that were occurring within society.

Each of the above two pictures depict a trolley, a central figure in the rise of consumerism and mass production – although there is a 37 year difference in the date of these two pieces both show an object that has occurred very little change – illustrating a continued relevance for the object. I find the second image particularly interesting with its apparently mocking approach to the idolatrous way we view shopping.

Pop Art is also key in drawing our attention to the value systems held in modern society.

Warhol, Brillo Box

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964

This piece in particular draws attention to particular values present in modern society – the original source of the imagery is a functional piece of packaging, dispensable and virtually worthless. Andy Warhol prints this imagery onto a wooden box, attaches his name to it and its value increases significantly – it calls to attention how we view objects, when a fake reproduction becomes more valuable than the original.

This piece offers a reflection on the wider values of consumerism – the way that we relate to the objects on sale to us. We no longer live in a society where we have direct interaction with the individual producers of the products we consume – instead our relationship is with the brand name and the object itself (something that has now become part of developing an individual sense of identity).

Pop Art looked to work within consumerism, using it as a way of relating art back to life, and life back to art – as can be read in Claes Oldenburg’s essay ‘I am for an art’. Pop artists aimed to become almost like sales people – they felt that art objects, just like everyday objects, did not have to be beautiful or precious but simply sale-able. If art is tangible and material, produced by the labour of a person and with a market, then it is a commodity and is no different to any other object existing within consumerist society.


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