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pop to popism at agnsw

Roy Lichenstein's famous work, In The Car
Inset Image- Roy Lichenstein’s  In The Car. Featured Image: Howard Arkley’s Triple Fronted

With over 200 works by some 70 of the genre’s most well known artists, POP TO POPISM at the Art Gallery of NSW is the biggest collection of Pop Art ever to be seen in Australia. It is part of the Sydney International Art Series and is showing in conjunction with the Chuck Close : prints, process and collaboration exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

The exhibition spans 30 years (roughly the 1950’s to the 1980’s) and looks at the rebellious origins of Pop Art, how it spread world wide, and its legacy in Australia. Significant Australian works are included to put Australian Pop art in its international context.

Continuing the tradition of scholarly research at the AGNSW, there is a blindingly dazzling display of Pop art legends such as Warhol and Lichtenstein , and Australian artists including Martin Sharp, Colin Lanceley, Brett Whiteley, Ken Reinhard, Richard Larter, Vivienne Binns and Bridgid McLean. At the media preview of the exhibition Curator Wayne Tunnicliffe spoke of howe many Australian artists have been and continue to be influenced by the Pop Art movement.

POP TO POPISM is a large, sprawling exhibition of seven rooms that takes up most of Level 2 of the Gallery, where the Kaldor Contemporary display is usually placed.

There is a special POPPLAY area for children, a family friendly creative space with interactive activities and also a very exciting children’s educational trail. As well, there is also the special POP CAFE blending the 50’s and 60’s with its silver bubble mirrors and black and white decor.

The exhibition is roughly arranged chronologically, starting with THE  FUTURE IS NOW and the emergence of Pop art from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950’s and Swinging London of the 60’s.This section includes the iconic work by Richard Hamilton Just What Is it That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, a collage of a lounge room with a semi –naked body builder holding up a paddle with the word ‘Pop’. Also featured are Robert Rauschenberg’s Dylaby and Australian artist Colin Lanceley’s tastefully erotic, multi layered Stripper.

The next section AMERICAN DREAM includes Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis and two of Lichenstsein’s works as well as more Rauschenberg and Marasol’s very strange John Wayne sculpture. It concentrates on the year 1962 when Pop art fully emerged with a bang in the New York art scene.

Often the subject of American Pop art is commercial and familiar. Artists represented objects and imagery from the world around them, mimicking the look and feel of mass produced items. Yes Warhol’s famous soup cans are included as well as an early Lichtenstein Look Mickey.

There is also the rather disturbing work by Robert Indiana The Demuth American Dream, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series (and his far darker unnerving Electric Chair) as well as Rauschenberg’s rather threatening Noise. One of the few female artists, Roslyn Drexler is also included with her Home Movies and Race for Time.

Moving on, the viewer then encounters EURO POP in a fascinating room that features works from Germany, France, Italy and Scandinavia. A range of ideas was expressed, with Old Masters from traditional art history reworked and updated (for example Alain Jacquet) , Oyvind Falhstrom’s blasting of American consumerism, and Gerhard Richter commenting on the effects of mass production of consumer items.

The next section is titled MADE IN OZ. As it says in the brochure, ‘Australian Pop is energetic, daring and often erotic’ as can be seen in the vivid, colourful works of Ken Reinhard (his Ticket Box and EK) with his distinctive use of red, black and white and artists such as Richard Larter.

In common with British Pop art Australian Pop often used a collage aesthetic and painterly style which included abstract elements, blending local and international subjects and styles. Here we also see exciting works by Alan Oldfield, Martin Sharp ,Vivienne Binns, Gary Shead and Bridgid McLean, Gareth Samson, Dick Watkins and Peter Powditch.

In LATE POP we see how society and art had changed even more by the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Disturbances about issues such as race relations, gender rights, sexual liberation and the Vietnam War all impacted heavily on Pop. In this section we see works by Martha Rosler, James Rosenquist and others making works critical of the American Dream and commenting on events happening both at home and internationally.

Duane Hanson’s brutally realistic sculpture of an everywoman Woman With A Laundry Basket is also here. The Late Pop section also includes Brett Whiteley’s biggest work American Dream  with its flashing red alarm light.

Artists like Allen Jones and Tom Wesselmann further developed Pop Art’s concerns with the female body, desire and consumerism.

Some artists who had been at the vanguard of Pop in the 1960’s began exploring other styles. Amongst these artists were David Hockney’s exploration of photo realism, and Martin Sharp’s work with psychedelic art.

POPISM, the final section, examines how artists like Gilbert and George, Cindy Sherman and others were exploring Pop issues and concerns with the use of photographic techniques. Works by artists Jenny Watson, Juan Davila and Imants Tillers challenge and confront. The works of Jeff Koons intrigued, including an eerie double set of Hoover vacuum cleaners, and an odd work which looked like deflated basketballs in water.

The exhibition is over and now it is through to the shop and splurge! Yes, more consumerism! Go on…you know you want it….The glorious catalogue is a good start!

POP TO POPISM is on exhibition at the Arts Gallery of New South Wales until March next year.

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