Pop It Out

The Keith Haring Foundation, which Haring established, also serves as his estate and provides grants to nonprofit organizations that assist children and AIDS-related causes. It has also transformed Haring’s art into what is essentially a brand, with merchandise from cookies to coat racks.

China was Pop. It still is. It’s still a nation of uniforms, but of more and more kinds of uniforms. I saw outfits with matching corsages on department store salesgirls, the slate-gray shirts of guards stationed at luxury high-rises and the Chloë Sevigny T-shirts that teenagers wear on Beijing streets.

The lure of motorcycle week in Sturgis is the surrounding Badlands countryside with its miles of open road. But it’s also alcohol, drugs and sex. My other plane conversationalist was a Texas woman coming in to help at her family’s barbeque booth. Dorothy’s husband called her down in Austin the night before to complain of the couples coupling nekkid on his picnic tables at the Chip. The evening will be more than a mere military tribute to John McCain.

In this absence of a clear-cut sartorial zeitgeist, “Designers are focusing more on their own brand identities, despite what everyone else is doing,” explains Stephanie Meyerson, Director of Youth Culture at trend resource agency Style Sight. “Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Prada—all have an unwavering sense of brand vision and creativity, regardless of fleeting trends.” It’s an evolution that, though great for creativity, has made the editor’s job of pinpointing “the new black” much more difficult.

Pop Culture is everywhere at every time. It is omnipresent in everything we do, everywhere we go and available every time of the day or night. But what is Pop Culture? How does it work in our lives? How does it work in our culture – economic, political, societal, but mostly in our world, the art world? We intend to examine the nature of Pop Culture in this series. But we intend to do it a little differently. We want to see how it works in the context of our technologies and how that effects how we come to understand our lives. Ultimately we want to see how this filters into the art that we make and that we see.

Many art movements had their basis in new theoretical proposals – the beginning of the 20th Century was littered with one “ism” after another. But Pop Art had something more. Postmodernism began its hegemony as the combined juggernauts of media and technology merged. Popular Culture is the driving force, the friendly face of Postmodern institutionalism. We can begin to define Postmodernism in art with the success of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art in the early 1960s. The old school critics and defenders of so called “high culture” immediately dismissed it. But what they didn’t understand was that America’s, and indeed, the world’s understanding of life was going to be driven by the new electronic media that was just appearing on the scene. Andy was the first to paint with photographs rather than from photographs. He was also the first to use media images and media presentations exclusively as the compositional basis for his art. He understood the power of fame, immediate immersion and blank celebrity. Rather than build on previous art styles and art histories Andy brought Pop Culture directly against the “high art” of Greenberg’s precious Pure Painting. He “blew up” popular culture to a larger size. Warhol’s art upended Modernism and opened an art dialog that has lasted nearly 50 years. Today, Warhol’s paintings look like art, they look like classical painting, and we are used to what they do and how they go about doing it. We accept them and take them for granted, just as we do computers, mobile phones and chat rooms. Warhol’s Pop has become inured in the academy in a way that Greenberg’s formalism never could be, because Pop is how we exist. Pop is what Art is, and Postmodernism is at its theoretical base.

But what exactly is Pop today? Do David Salle, Robert Longo, Julian Schnabel and other 80s stars continue the line of Pop Art? Are Christopher Wool, Albert Oehlen, Charline von Heyl and other current abstractionists Pop artists? Are John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Elizabeth Peyton using Pop art to define their images? How does it all work? How is this different in this time? And most importantly, we’ll be looking for “it” – something that might be so different, so appealing. Those are some of the questions we’ll be taking up in this series over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

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