From POP TRIUMPHANT: A NEW REALISM
.... The rise of Pop can be emblemized in Oldenburg's transition from The Street to The Store, from the site of debris to the site of commerce. From the junk aesthetic Oldenburg moved to present art and its objects as destined for the consumer market, where "Museum in b[ourgeois] concept equals store in mine."' First embodied as brightly painted reliefs in the stairwell and front gallery of Martha Jackson's large exhibition early in the summer of 1961 - Environments, Situations, Spaces - the concept demanded a place all its own. And when Oldenburg moved his studio to an old storefront at 107 East 2nd Street, he decided to instantiate it right there. On Friday, December 1, from seven to ten P.m., he opened his own store, just in time for the Christmas shopping season.
Incorporated as The Raygun Manufacturing Company, The Store originally was to close at the end of December, conducting business Fridays through Sundays from one to six o'clock and by appointment. Due to popular demand Oldenburg extended it through January, followed by a series of happenings - for an audience of thirty-five crowded amidst his lively works - that lasted until the end of May. Eighty feet long and ten feet wide, The Store was filled with 107 objects, ranging in price from $21-79 for a painted plaster oval mirror to $899.95 for the large figure of a bride. The reliefs from the Martha Jackson show were supplemented by all sorts of free-standing objects, everything messily painted in bright commercial enamel right out of the can. There were shoes, doughnuts, sneakers, candy bars, pants, shirts, letters, hats, sandwiches, ties, dresses, fried eggs, girdles, disembodied legs and jacketed torsos, cakes and pies in glass cases. (2) As Sidney Tillim wrote in Arts, "It was the very simulacrum of the ultimate in American variety stores, a combination of neighborhood free enterprise and Sears and Roebuck." (3) For Tillim, The Store exemplified artists' recent discovery that the American Dream could be avant-garde, too. Here he had subject matter in mind, images of consumer goods and media imagery that were proliferating in vanguard galleries. But soon the financial aspect of the connection would become more apparent, and more controversial.
The Store was presented in conjunction with the Green Gallery, which had agreed to pay half of the expenses and take a commission of one-third after sales had reached $200. With total sales of $1,655 and expenses of about $400, Oldenburg ended his two months of business owing the gallery $285.4 This debt readily would be made good, however, as 1962 turned into a boom year for the art that would become known as Pop. The year began with Jim Dine at Martha Jackson in January, moved in February to the Pop introductions of James Rosenquist at the Green Gallery and Roy Lichtenstein at Castelli, George Segal's plaster figures at the Green Gallery in May, Andy Warhol's thirty-two paintings of Campbell's Soup cans at the Fetus Gallery in Los Angeles in July, Oldenburg's huge soft sculptures at the Green Gallery in September - October leading into Sidney Janis's New Realists, Andy Warhol's silkscreen paintings at the Stable Gallery and Tom Wesselmann's Great American Nudes at the Green Gallery in November. The year of Pop ended in Los Angeles at the Dwan Gallery, with a group show of thirteen artists, My Country 'Tis of Thee. There, with eerie foreboding, a vandal shot the figure of JFK in Marisol's sculpture The Kennedys. (5)
Oldenburg himself spent the summer of 1962 working in the lofty 57th Street space of the Green Gallery, preparing for his opening-of-the-season exhibition. Here he had room to enlarge the kind of objects that he had shown at The Store, creating the gigantic stuffed canvas hamburger, ice cream cone, and slice of cake that so impressed the collectors a month before the Janis show. Run by the former director of the Hansa Gallery, Richard Bellamy, the Green Gallery was backed anonymously by the first major collector of Pop Art, Robert Scull. Wealthy owners of a taxi fleet, Scull and his wife, Ethel, epitomized the collectors who would become art-world celebrities during the sixties. In fact, the first book on Pop, by John Rublowsky, featured photographs of the new collectors living on Park Avenue and in the suburbs with their Rosenquists, Lichtensteins, and Warhols. (6) On those walls images from comic books, advertisements, and packaging looked back with nostalgia to the America of their youth, with facture clean enough to enter, the suburban world into which postwar prosperity had moved them, along with about a third of the American population. And these new buyers would be purchasing their art with a new attitude. As Life happily quoted Leon Kraushar, one collector whose home was shown in Rublowsky: "[T]hese pictures are like IBM stock ... and this is the time to buy." (7)
That the first group show of the new artists was held at the establishment Sidney Janis Gallery was a matter for much critical comment when the exhibition New Realists opened on the last day of October. (8) In The New Yorker, Harold Rosenberg said that the show "hit the New York art world with the force of an earthquake," attributing the "sense of art history being made" to the prestigious venue. Tom Hess in Art News remarked that it was "the reputation of the gallery which added a certain adrenaline quality to the manifestation," since Janis had "assumed a status for living painting that resembles the old Duveen's of the Master trade." Most emphatic was Sidney Tillim in Arts, who noted that "dealer Sidney Janis has moved in on the 'pop' craze at harvest time," and that, as the preeminent dealer of Abstract Expressionism, he "is capable of certifying a trend." For Tillim the European work, which all critics considered less innovative than the American, had been included to certify the existence of "a new International Style" now led by the New York artists. (9)
Because the exhibition was to include at least two works from each of fifty-four artists, and the American paintings were so large, the gallery at 15 East 57th Street was much too small. Janis therefore rented an empty store across Fifth Avenue at 19 West 57th Street, through whose glass front the public could survey the installation. In the window he placed Oldenburg's array of brightly painted women's underwear, an ironic transposition of The Store from the Lower East Side to classy 57th Street, via the aesthetics Of 14th Street shop display.
Although the show was called New Realists, the translated French appellation coming from Restany, there was much discussion of what these artists should be called. In his own catalogue essay Sidney Janis seemed to prefer Factual Artists, also mentioning the use of Pop Artist in England and Polymaterialist in Italy, and in a footnote he refers to Commonists as another alternative. Eventually, of course, Pop triumphed, a term first used by English critic Lawrence Alloway to refer to the culture rather than to the art derived from it. Brian O'Doherty's second New York Times review of the show was entitled "'Pop' Goes the New Art," and the term soon would appear in headlines in Time: "Pop Art - Cult of the Commonplace," "Art: Pop Pop." (10)
While some critics, such as Dore Ashton, tended to view the exhibition as just more Neo-Dada of the sort seen at Martha Jackson, the recent work of Lichtenstein, Warhol, Indiana, Wesselmann, and Rosenqtiist clearly pointed in a new direction. As Tom Hess reported: "The point of the Janis show ... was an implicit proclamation that the New had arrived and that it was time for the old fogies to pack.... the New Realists were eyeing the old abstractionists like Khrushchev used to eye Disneyland - 'We will bury you' was their motto." And Janis's stable of Abstract Expressionist masters did not take the challenge lightly. After the exhibition, as the gallery continued to take on Pop artists, a protest meeting was held and Guston, Motherwell, Gottlieb, and Rothko left the gallery. Only de Kooning remained. (11)
In the catalogue Janis identified three themes exemplified by work in the exhibition - the everyday object, the mass media, and repetitive imagery evoking mass production - but the two installations made little attempt to group the pieces by these categories. The sense of an international movement was emphasized through the intermingling of European and American work, and most artists appeared in both gallery spaces. Certainly there were some telling juxtapositions of a thematic kind. Just past the Oldenburg underwear display in the window of the storefront space, Arman's rows of faucets hung next to Warhol's painting of 200 Campbell's Soup cans, the antiquated look of the European hardware contrasting with the slick reproduction of American packaging. Further along, past James Rosenquist's huge painting of a car grill over a mass of spaghetti, I Love You with My Ford, the EAT of Robert Indiana's Black Diamond American Dream #2 - which would be acquired by the president of MOMA for his personal collection - sat behind Oldenburg's luscious pastry display case, across the room from the enlarged sliced white
bread, Lipton soup mix, Del Monte catsup and canned fruit, and Schmidt's beer of Tom Wesselmann's Still Life #19. Toward the end of the space sat George Segal's eerie group of six plaster figures around the dinner table, life casts encasing interior likenesses of their models. Positioned next to a refrigerator by Jean Tinguely, they bore mute witness to the shock of those who opened the fridge door to a screaming siren. Appropriately enough, the theme was introduced at the front door, as one passed Lichtenstein's comic book close-up of a woman cleaning the inside of her refrigerator, below Spoerri's funky Le Parc de Marcelle, a comprised of a chair and folding table, to which were glued beer bottles, a coffee cup, and a full ashtray.
The display was more elegant in the Sidney Janis Gallery at 15 East 57th, without the ad hoc lighting and exposed sprinkler pipes of the temporary space down the street. In the smaller rooms of the gallery the large American paintings were even more striking, completely overwhelming the intimately scaled work of most of the European artists. Here such clean and bright paintings as Lichtenstein's Blam, Rosenquist's Silver Skies, Wayne Thiebaud's Salads, Sandwiches, and Desserts, and Warhol's paint-by-numbers daffodils and irises, Do It Yourself, took all attention away from works like Tinguely's relief of radio parts, Christo's wrapped burlap package, Yves Klein's pink and blue sponge sculptures, and the Italian Gianfranco Baruchello's mounted pile of newspapers, Awareness II. Of course, some European pieces acquitted themselves well in terms of scale and power, with Arman's accumulation of sabres more than holding its own across a doorway from Jim Dine's painting with attached lawnmower, and the Swede Oyvind Fahlstrom's surreal-psychedelic cartoon imagery bearing up across from Warhol's unfinished flowers.
In both spaces the overall impression was that the European work was old-fashioned, akin to earlier New York Neo-Dada in its use of discarded and rough materials, and in painterly feel closer to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism than to the clean lines of American media images. The Italian Mario Schifano might paint the Coca-Cola logo, but his messy drips looked dated alongside Warhol's soup cans. Mimmo Rotelia and Raymond Hains used actual advertising posters, but their ripped patterns were more like Tachiste gesture than the pristine ads in Wesselmann's collages or than Rosenquist's billboard fantasies. As for the English artists, certainly John Latham's reliefs of abused books seemed much like late fifties assemblage. And while Peter Blake's large Love Wall of postcards, pin-ups, and Pop image of a heart looked neat and new between the Klein sponge sculptures and Christo's package, and Peter Phillips's Wall Machine used comic book panels, their visual restraint was obvious when compared with the boisterous American way of recycling media imagery. As Hess remarked in Art News, the Europeans "look feeble in this line-up. Some Englishmen do comic strips that try to say 'WOW' but can only manage the equivalent of 'Coo, matey." (12)
The other critics concurred that the Americans dominated the exhibition, and even Restany in retrospect agreed that his Nouveaux Rálistes "look[ed] like venerable ancestors" of the New York artists. (13) The shock was especially great for the three French artists who came to New York for the exhibition - Martial Raysse, Jean Tinguely, and Niki de Saint-Phalle, who was showing concurrently at the Iolas Gallery. Although he had been taken on by Janis the previous summer, Arman was unable to leave Paris, but he received an outraged letter from his friends: Their pieces looked small, dusty, and antique next to the aggressive American work. The exhibition had been designed to make them look bad, and they had been unfairly vanquished. Raysse, whose displays of pristine plastic commodities looked especially fresh compared to the work of his fellows, nonetheless was very upset. He wrote to Arman about Warhol, even including sketches of particular pieces, and told his friend to begin painting groups of brightly colored French objects so as to reclaim his position. (14) In retrospect, the French were to feel that they had been used by Janis to give his establishment gallery an avant-garde air, making it more attractive to the younger American artists. (15)
Restany himself responded to the exhibition with an article in the January 1963 Art International, an issue devoted to the Janis show and to the new Pop artists. There he criticized the Americans for developing the Nouveau Réaliste investigation of "the expressive autonomy of the object" into a monotonous "modern fetishism of the object." For him most of the Pop painters just worked in another trompe-l' oeil style, modern in look but retrograde in substance. In addition to displeasure over the way that his artists had been shown up, he could not have been happy about the treatment of his catalogue essay. Only a small portion of the long piece was printed, for Janis had found the wordy tract virtually untranslatable and largely irrelevant to the content of his exhibition. 16 The only long critical text to be included was that of John Ashbery. He, ironically, had written it in Paris.
Naturally, there was a great deal of press surrounding the show. Critics such as Hilton Kramer, Dore Ashton, Irving Sandler, and Thomas Hess, closely associated with the ethos of Abstract Expressionism, were largely negative, especially concerning the painting of Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Rosenquist. While in various ways supportive of such work as that of Oldenburg and Segal, who, in Sandler's words, "infuse commonplace objects with new imaginative meanings," for them the general movement seemed to repudiate any search for transcendence or higher significance. What some viewed as social commentary Kramer saw as feigned, a vision "too tame and accommodating[,] ... the usual attempt to disguise an essentially conformist and Philistine response to modern experience under a banner of audacity and innovation." In spirit if not in tone, many critics echoed Max Kozloff's view in the first article discussing the new art as a whole, "Pop Culture, Metaphysical Disgust and The New Vulgarians": "The truth is, the art galleries are being invaded by the pin-headed and contemptible style of gum chewers, bobby soxers, and worse, delinquents." Even Brian O'Doherty, whose enthusiasm for the exhibition seemed to know few bounds, found much there to be throwaway art, expendable once its clever journalistic work was done. (17)
On December 13, just after the Janis show and culminating the year of Pop, a symposium on the subject was organized by curator Peter Selz at the Museum of Modern Art. (18) A major issue was the speed with which Pop art had appeared and become commercially successful. Henry Geldzahler, a young curator at the Metropolitan Museum of A-rt and a firm Pop supporter, noted that a year and a half ago he had visited the studios of Lichtenstein, Warhol, Wesselmann, and Rosenquist to find them all working in the new mode unaware of one another, and that now there was a symposium on their "movement" at MOMA. To resent such rapid success, he thought, was to subscribe to an outmoded myth of the alienated artist, a notion obsolete since a significant class of collectors had appeared seeking to patronize advanced art. This "instant art history," and the participation of museums in the process, was decried by Kramer and Stanley Kunitz, and Kramer attributed much of Pop's success to the ease with which the work could be spoken about. For him, it marked "a kind of emancipation proclamation for the art critic[,] ... the conversation piece par excellence."
Yet both Geldzahler and Leo Steinberg thought that the triumph of the Pop artists reflected more than ease of verbal and imagistic reference. Rather, the Pop phenomenon signaled a shift in the nature of the avant-garde. Steinberg saw it as a change in strategy, a move from attacking the bourgeoisie to embracing its values with a vengeance. For Geldzahler the point was that advanced art now had its own establishment, one that had been educated to expect and to desire the new, and thus one that no longer could be shocked. The avant-garde had triumphed, and in its success it had eliminated the ground of its own existence.
A few months later, Time reported that "Collectors, uncertain of their own taste, find pop art paintings ideal for their chalk-walled, low-ceilinged, $19-5,000 co-op apartments in new buildings on Park Avenue.... [S]ince the avant-garde public is so hungry for more and more avant, the pop artists are in the chips." (19) And certainly it was these chips that inspired much of the resentment toward the Pop artists. Members of the Club had slaved for years before selling a painting, and here young artists were finding financial success with their first shows. The grapevine and the journals reported "Wild buying," and Pop artists socialized with wealthy collectors who, the critic Barbara Rose remarked, were "as frequently collecting artists as art." (20) The fifties had brought America into a different world, and the sixties had brought it a different kind of art world.
As Allan Kaprow would note in 1964, "If the artist was in hell in 1946, now he is in business." (21) The growing university system had hired artists trained on the G.I. Bill, and for the first time large numbers of artists could expect to earn a decent living. Widespread university education had expanded general cultural awareness, and an enlarged middle class was able to support what they were being taught to value. Museum activity grew, popular media gave more coverage to the new art scene, gallery sales and prices of successful artists increased. With Pop the pattern that would recur throughout the seventies and eighties was formed - new art providing new status to those of new wealth. Not only had Pop packaged the imagery of the American dream, it had wrapped itself up in the same bundle. For the rest of the decade advanced art would attempt to untie the twine.
1. Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1969). Also see the artist's 1961 notebook remarks in Claes Oldenburg and Emmett Williams, Store Days (New York: Something Else Press, 1967), pp. 8, 49, 81.
2. For the full inventory of The Store, with prices, see Oldenburg and Williams, PP. 31-34.
3. Sidney Tillim, "Month in Review," Arts, February 1962, P. 36.
4. Oldenburg and Williams, p. 150.
5. John W McCoubrey, Robert Indiana (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1968), P. 54.
6. John Rublowsky, Pop Art. Photography by Ken Heyman (New York: Basic Books, 1965). In addition to photographs of the Sculls, the book showed the home of Leon Kraushar, whose widow would sell his Pop works through Munich dealer Heiner Friedrich in 1968 to German collector Hans Stroher, who would circulate them throughout Germany before their installation in the Hessischen Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. Phyllis Tuchman, "American Art in Germany: The History of a Phenomenon," Artforum, November 1970, P. 59.
7. "You Bought It - Now Live with It," Lift, July 16, 1965, P. 59.
8. Actually, this was the first group show in New York to feature the newly emerged form of Pop. The previous April and May, the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Art had presented the exhibition 1961, whose 36 artists included Dine, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Rosenquist. There The Store was partially re-created, and Oldenburg presented a second version of his Happening, Injun.
9. Harold Rosenberg, "The Art Galleries: The Game of Illusion," The Ne, w Yorker, November 24, 1962, P. 162. Thomas B. Hess, "New Realists," Art News, December 1962, p. 12. Sidney Tillim, "The New Realists," Arts, December 1962, PP. 43-44. Four years later the show was cited in these terms by Lucy Lippard in her early overview of the movement, where she noted that at
Janis "Pop was consecrated as fashionable Lucy Lippard, "New York Pop," in Lucy Lippard, Pop Art (New York: Praeger, 1966), p. 84.
10. Sidney Janis, "On the Theme of the Exhibition," in Neu., Realists (New York: Sidney Janis Gallery, 1962). On Alloway's use of the term Pop, see Lawrence Alloway, "The Development of British Pop," in Lippard, p. 27. Alloway's misleading use of the Independent Group activities in England as a precursor of American Pop is discussed in Lynn Cooke, "The Independent Group: British and American Pop Art, A 'Palimpcestuous' Legacy," in Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik, eds., Modern Art and Popular Culture: Reading's in High and Low (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1990), especially pp. 197-2o2. For the four exhibitions of the Independent Group, which include the important This Is Tomorrow Of 1956, see Graham Whitham, "Exhibitions," in David Robbins, The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 123-161. The cited articles appeared in the New York Times on November 4, 1962, Section 2, P. 23, and in Time on May 3, 1963, pp. 69 ff. and August 30, 1963, P. 40.
11.Dore Ashton, "New York Report," Das Kunstwerk (16), November-December 1962, pp. 69.
Hess, p. 12. "Sidney Janis," in Laura de Copper and Alan Jones, The Art Dealers (New York:
Clarkson N. Potter, 1984), PP. 39-40.
12. Hess, p. 13.
13. Restany, "Modern Nature," P. 44.
14. Interview with Arman, October it, 1991.
15. According to unpublished interviews conducted by Susan Hapgood in Paris in April 1992, both Pierre Restany and Daniel Spoerri hold this view. I thank Hapgood for the use of her transcripts, in which Restany also suggests that it was Leo Castelli who convinced Janis to focus on the new Pop artists instead of Neo-Dada.
16. Pierre Restany, "Le Nouveau Réalisme a la Conquete de New York," Art International, January 25, 1963, PP. 33-36. Janis cabled the Galerie J about Restany's text being largely "irrelevant" on September 25, explaining in a letter the same day that they had been unable to get an "intelligible translation" of the whole essay, but that Georges Marei (who worked with Jean Larcade, and had introduced Arman to Janis) had managed to render part of it into understandable English. Janis felt that to print the whole piece would damage the reputations of both Restany and the Nouveaux Réalistes. Sidney Janis Gallery Archives, New York.
17. Ashton, "New York Report," Das Kunstwerk, November-December 1962, pp. 69-70. Irving Sandler, "In the Galleries," New York Post, November 18, 1962, magazine, p. 12. Hilton Kramer, "Art," Nation, November 17, 1962, P. 335. Max Kozloff, "Pop Culture, Metaphysical Disgust and the New Vulgarians," Art International, February 11962, P. 38. Brian O'Doherty, "Art: Avant-Garde Revolt: 'New Realists' Mock U.S. Mass Culture in Exhibition at Sidney Janis
Gallery" and ... Pop' Goes the New Art," New York Times, October 31, 1962, P. 41 and November 4, 1962, section 2, P. 23. Much of the published criticism of Pop is reprinted in Carol Anne Mahsun, ed., Pop Art.- The Critical Dialogue (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989), and discussed in Carol Anne Mahsun, Pop Art and the Critics (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987).
18. The proceedings were published a few months later in "A Symposium on Pop Art," Arts, April 1963, PP. 36-45. The participants were Henry Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer, Dore Ashton, Leo Steinberg, Stanley Kunitz, and Peter Selz, and at the symposium slides were shown of the artists' work. Jill Johnston reported that Marcel Duchamp was in the audience, and that after Kramer called him "the most overrated figure in modern art," Duchamp remarked to his neighbor that the critic seemed "insufficiently light-hearted." Jill Johnston, "The Artist in a Coca-Cola World," The Village Voice, January 31, 1963, P. 24.
19. "Pop Art - Cult of the Commonplace," Time, May 3, 1963, pp. 60-70. The article was occasioned by Lawrence Alloway's exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, "Six Painters and the Object." (The artists were Dine, Johns, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, and Warhol.) Time goes on to quote Philip Johnson calling Pop "the most important art movement in the world today," and Max Ernst derisively remarking, "It is just some feeble bubbles of that Coca-Cola, which I consider less than interesting and rather sad."
20. Both remarks are from the Art International number of January 25, 1963, devoted to the Janis exhibition. The sales situation is reported by Sonya Rudikoff, "New Realists in New York,"
p. 41, and the comment on the collectors is from Barbara Rose, "Dada Then and Now," P. 27.
21. Allan Kaprow, "Should the Artist Become a Man of the World?" Art News, October 1964, P. 34. Summarizing the New York art scene a few years later, Alan Solomon, who had mounted the early retrospectives of Johns and Rauschenberg at the Jewish Museum, remarked that with the "analysts" bills, sports cars, Barcelona chairs, summer houses, travel abroad, [and] custom clothes ... i[t] has become ever more difficult to tell the artists from the collectors." Alan Solomon, text, and Ugo Mulas, photographs, New York: The Art Scene (New York: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1967), p. 67.
Excerpt, The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994: 212-19