The Consumer Article in the Art World: On the Para-Economy of American Pop Art
in: Shopping. A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, ed. by Max Hollein and Christoph Grunenberg, exhibition catalogue Tate Liverpool, Ostfildern-Ruit 2002, p. 148-53.
In the 1960s art appeared to rid itself in an offensive manner of everything that up until then could have been regarded as part of its concept. Beauty, exclusiveness, individuality, significance, artistry, complexity, depth, originality were at a stroke no longer mandatory categories. It was not the defence of artistic autonomy, which immediately before was still held in esteem by American and European Abstraction, but its abandonment that was promoted to the artistic programme. American Pop Art manifested the radical shift in position in a particularly striking manner. As art in this sphere began to approach its ‘other being’ – consumption and its banal products – an important taboo seemed to be broken. Both appeared to merge into one another, not only by reason of their choice of subject but also because of the production of pieces in large numbers, as happened in the case of the so-called ‘multiples’. Nevertheless, Pop Art was only truly ‘popular’, as its name suggests, to a limited extent. ‘Popular’ was an iconographic reference to the everyday phenomena of the modern world of goods; what remained ‘unpopular’ about it, however, was the fact that the phenomena acted thematically against its own matter-of-factness. Pop Art was in no way a mere reflection of reality, but a transfer operation that took place between thing and likeness – or, as Roy Lichtenstein formulated it, a ‘significant interaction’. Something was becoming visible for Pop Art to combine with the contemporaneously emerging conceptual art: artists not only regarded themselves as producers of artefacts, but simultaneously questioned the cultural, institutional and discursive ‘frameworks’, in which the production and reception of art took place. Thus, the apparent convergence of art and consumer goods in no way caused the old differences between art and non-art – between appearance and being, the aesthetic and the functional, the ‘superficial’ and the ‘profound’ – to disappear, but allowed them to break out anew and in a particularly explosive manner. It was precisely Pop Art, which appeared to strip art of its attributes, that, because of its reflexivity and conceptuality, contributed significantly to the fact that art could assert itself in a period of change and even radically renew itself. But this took place only through a radical shift of paradigms. If Cézanne, according to his famous dictum, worked in parallel with nature, the Pop artists did so in parallel with contemporary consumer culture. At the same time they recognised that the argument with it required not only a new spectrum of themes, but above all a decisive new definition of artistic production, one that transcended the traditional craftsman’s trade. To that end, however, they needed to retain a pre-requisite significant for art, the equivalence of what was portrayed and the method of portrayal, content and form.
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