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The largest survey of pop art to be shown in Australia, Pop to Popism at the Art Gallery of New South Wales highlights how the movement continues to influence contemporary art today
Pop art created some of the most recognisable works of art in the world, from Andy Warhol’s soup cans to Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey. Yet many aspects of the pop movement have gone under the radar, such as the Australian artists who worked in bold ways ahead of their time, and the female artists whose work had to dramatically push boundaries to compete with the men. By looking beyond the iconic works and allowing these lesser known elements to come forward, the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ latest exhibition Pop to Popism, part of Destination NSW’s Sydney International Art Series, tells the story of a language ¬– not just an art movement – that is still widely used today.
When pop art emerged in the early 1960s it transformed how audiences understood art. As a reaction to the gestural and painterly styles of abstract expressionism, and with the introduction of mass media, artists wanted to create more accessible work relevant to everyday life. They turned towards communications, advertising, television, film and comic books as materials to reflect these changes and the impact of technology in a rapidly evolving world.
“Pop artists were saying – actually, let’s look at real life. Let’s look at how people are actually living, let’s look at the popular culture that’s all around us, and bring that into the art gallery”, describes Wayne Tunnicliffe, curator of Pop to Popism.
The exhibition begins with the vibrant emergence of pop art in the early sixties and continues geographically and chronologically. Swinging London looks at artist groups such as The Independent Group that included Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, and aimed to revitalise art in the postwar era. Classic American pop art features the famous works of Ed Ruscha and Robert Rauschenberg, and the European movement presents works by Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Australian pop is a significant part of the exhibition, with artists including Richard Larter and Robert Boynes. Late pop art includes work made in the early to mid seventies, like Duane Hanson’s Woman with Laundry Basket, which begin to reflexively look back at the pop culture as defining a lifestyle.
The exhibition finishes on Popism, a term which reflects the values of pop art that have continued to influence contemporary art, particularly the methods of mechanical reproduction, the un-expressionist style, and the emergence of art that combines media. The merging of art forms, with an emphasis on appropriation and remix, brings into focus the idea of pop as a language, with its trademark values of borrowing material from modern everyday life.
Throughout the exhibition there is a particular focus on demonstrating the strength of female artists at the time with works by artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle, Rosalyn Drexler, Martha Rosler and Vivienne Binns. “Any female artist in the 1960s had to be pretty tough to compete with the men, so they often did quite tough work as well”, Tunnicliffe points out.
Tunnicliffe believes now is the perfect moment to look back at where pop art came from. “To think what relevance it has now and to put Australian artists into that context, because there’s never been a pop survey to show Australian artists with their international peers before.”
The Australian pop artists reacted to many of the same things as their international counterparts, but were much bolder when it came to pushing social boundaries.
“Australian pop is often quite erotic, there’s quite a strong hedonistic sexual element” says Tunnicliffe. Pop artists such as Martin Sharp and Mike Brown were among those charged with obscenity over references in their works: Sharp’s involvement in the cover art of underground OZ magazine in 1964, and Brown’s Paintin’ a-go-go exhibition in 1965, were both anti-establishment reactions against the art market.
“Australia was intensely socially conservative during that period and the artists were amongst those pushing against it, trying to bring about greater liberalization.”
While the retrospective gives context, a significant part of the exhibition is also a reminder of how the language of pop art is used today. Tunnicliffe points to the work of many contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Richard Bell, Tracey Moffatt and Tony Albert, who explore race in similar ways to how Australian artists from the sixties, such as Sharp and Brown, were using pop art to oppose conservative social issues.
“I think the language of pop has stayed with us. It seems to have another zeitgeist moment, there’s pop material turning up all over the place.”
So while the soup cans and comic books may be what get people into the gallery this summer, there’s another narrative to explore – one that’s more gritty, unexpected, and closer to home.
Pop to Popism at the Art Gallery of New South Wales is part of Destination NSW’s Sydney International Art Series.
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Maynard Dixon (January 24, 1875 – November 11, 1946) was a 20th-century American artist whose body of work focused on the American West. He was married for a time to American photographer Dorothea Lange.
Dixon was born in Fresno, California, into a family of aristocratic Virginia Confederates who had found a new home there after the American Civil War. His mother, a well-educated daughter of a Navy officer from San Francisco, shared her love of classic literature with the young boy and encouraged him in his writing and drawing. Dixon later studied briefly with the tonalist painter Arthur Mathews at the California School of Design where he became close friends with Xavier Martinez and others of the Bohemian Club. To support himself he accepted numerous illustration jobs. Great illustrators were plentiful around the turn of the century, yet Dixon obtained work from the Overland Monthly and several San Francisco newspapers.
In California, he illustrated books and magazines with Western themes. Some of his most memorable work from these early years appeared in Clarence Mulford’s books about Hopalong Cassidy. For a time he lived in New York with his young wife and baby daughter Constance, but soon returned to the western United States where he said he could create “honest art of the west” instead of the romanticized versions he was being paid to create. Shortly after he began a new life in San Francisco, his first marriage ended. Dixon developed his style during this early period, and Western themes became a trademark for him.
Influenced in part by the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, Dixon began to search for a new expression, moving away from impressionism and into a simpler, more modern style. Meeting and marrying Dorothea Lange, a portrait photographer from the East, had a great influence on his art.
By 1925 Maynard’s style had changed dramatically to even more powerful compositions, with the emphasis on design, color, and self-expression. A true modernist emerged. The power of low horizons and marching cloud formations, simplified and distilled, became his own brand and at once were both bold and mysterious.
During the Great Depression, Dixon painted a series of social realism canvases depicting the prevailing politics of maritime strikes, displaced workers, and those affected by the depression.
Antonio de Pereda (ca. 1611-January 30, 1678) was a Spanish Baroque-era painter, best known for his still lifes. Pereda was born in Valladolid. He was the eldest of three brothers from an artistic family. His father, mother and two brothers were all painters. He was educated in Madrid by Pedro de las Cuevas and was taken under the protective wing of the influential Giovanni Battista Crescenzi. After Crescenzi's death in 1635, Pereda was expelled from the court and began to take commissions from religious institutions. As well as still lifes and religious paintings, Pereda was known for his historical paintings such as the Relief of Genoa (1635) which was painted for the Salón de Reinos of the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid
André was a French artist, painter, sculptor and co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse.
Derain and Matisse worked together through the summer of 1905 in the Mediterranean village of Collioure and later that year displayed their highly innovative paintings at the Salon d'Automne.
The vivid, unnatural colors led the critic Louis Vauxcelles to derisively dub their works as les Fauves, or "the wild beasts", marking the start of the Fauvist movement. In March 1906, the noted art dealer Ambroise Vollard sent Derain to London to produce a series of paintings with the city as subject. In 30 paintings (29 of which are still extant), Derain presented a portrait of London that was radically different from anything done by previous painters of the city such as Whistler or Monet.
With bold colors and compositions, Derain painted multiple pictures of the Thames and Tower Bridge. These London paintings remain among his most popular work. Art critic T.G Rosenthal: "Not since Monet has anyone made London seem so fresh and yet remain quintessentially English.
Some of his views of the Thames use the Pointillist technique of multiple dots, although by this time, because the dots have become much larger, it is rather more simply the separation of colours called Divisionism and it is peculiarly effective in conveying the fragmentation of colour in moving water in sunlight."
In 1907 art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler purchased Derain's entire studio, granting Derain financial stability. He experimented with stone sculpture and moved to Montmartre to be near his friend Pablo Picasso and other noted artists. Fernande Olivier, Picasso's mistress at the time, described Derain as: Slim, elegant, with a lively colour and enamelled black hair. With an English chic, somewhat striking. Fancy waistcoats, ties in crude colours, red and green. Always a pipe in his mouth, phlegmatic, mocking, cold, an arguer.
At Montmartre, Derain began to shift from the brilliant Fauvist palette to more muted tones, showing the influence of Cubism and Paul Cézanne. (According to Gertrude Stein, there is a tradition that Derain discovered and was influenced by African sculpture before the Cubists did.)
Derain supplied woodcuts in primitivist style for an edition of Guillaume Apollinaire's first book of prose, L'enchanteur pourrissant (1909). He displayed works at the Neue Künstlervereinigung in Munich in 1910, in 1912 at the secessionist Der Blaue Reiter and in 1913 at the seminal Armory Show in New York. He also illustrated a collection of poems by Max Jacob in 1912.
At about this time Derain's work began overtly reflecting his study of the Old Masters. The role of color was reduced and forms became austere; the years 1911–1914 are sometimes referred to as his gothic period.
In 1914 he was mobilized for military service in World War I and until his release in 1919 he would have little time for painting, although in 1916 he provided a set of illustrations for André Breton's first book, Mont de Piete.
After the war, Derain won new acclaim as a leader of the renewed classicism then ascendant. With the wildness of his Fauve years far behind, he was admired as an upholder of tradition.
In 1919 he designed the ballet La Boutique fantasque for Diaghilev, leader of the Ballets Russes. A major success, it would lead to his creating many ballet designs.
The 1920s marked the height of his success, as he was awarded the Carnegie Prize in 1928 and began to exhibit extensively abroad—in London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, New York City and Cincinnati, Ohio.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, Derain lived primarily in Paris and was much courted by the Germans because he represented the prestige of French culture.
Derain accepted an invitation to make an official visit to Germany in 1941, and traveled with other French artists to Berlin to attend a Nazi exhibition of an officially endorsed artist, Arno Breker.
Derain's presence in Germany was used effectively by Nazi propaganda, and after the Liberation he was branded a collaborator and ostracized by many former supporters.
A year before his death, he contracted an eye infection from which he never fully recovered. He died in Garches, Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France in 1954 when he was struck by a moving vehicle
Alfred Stevens was born in Brussels. He came from a family involved with the visual arts: his older brother Joseph (1816–1892) and his son Léopold (1866–1935) were painters, while another brother Arthur (1825–99) was an art dealer and critic. His father, who had fought in the Napoleonic wars in the army of William I of the Netherlands, was an art collector who owned several watercolors by Eugène Delacroix, among other artists. His mother's parents ran Café de l'Amitié in Brussels, a meeting place for politicians, writers, and artists.
Pietro Antonio Rotari (September 1707 – August 1762) was an Italian painter of the Baroque period. Born in Verona, he led a peripatetic career, and died in St Petersburg, where he had traveled to paint for the Russian court. He was much in demand as a portraitist, and painted royal families in Dresden and Saint Petersburg. He also painted the multi-figured altarpieces of the Four Martyrs (1745) for the church of the Ospedale di San Giacomo in Verona. He also painted an altarpiece of San Giorgio tempted to sacricifice to the idols (1743) for the church of the same name in Reggio-Emilia, and an Annunciation (1738) for the main altar for the church of the Annunziata in Guastalla