PRINT October 2004


Jack Bankowsky

Pop art is a nasty bit of work. It toadies to the powers that be and plays to the peanut gallery; broadcasts our dirty secrets but never lets us in on its own. Pop art is pushy, unapologetic, expedient—and amnesiac. It glories in the way things are and doesn’t worry much about the way they should be. But Pop knows how to turn on the charm. It’s brash, it’s quick, it’s fun to hang with. You can count on Pop to keep things light, but it’s better when it shows its depths.

“The depths of Pop” may seem an oxymoron, but the paradox is fully embodied in the art of the movement’s chief protagonist. As Kara Walker writes in these pages, “There are a lot of angles and surfaces, but when it comes to Warhol, depth is a much harder read.” Andy is deep not just because he figured out how to deliver up the surfaces, but because he jammed a wrench (a few of them) in the assembly line of Pop-perfect product that he’d set in motion. Andy was never just the printer of celebrities and soup cans; he was also a maker of movies and a painter of portraits for hire, the publisher of a magazine and a shopper for posterity (the time capsules). He used the art brand he minted to mobilize a network of concerns that made a mockery of the art faithful—and of himself, in their eyes. He was the Pop artist—and the artist who broke the Pop-art mold.

But the subject of this special issue of Artforum is neither the art of Andy Warhol nor the historical Pop moment more generally; rather, our interest lies in the variety of ways artists have worked with, through, and even in pop culture since the ’60s. The partnering of art and pop is antique business—at least as old as Jean-Antoine Watteau and the signboard he painted for an art dealer’s shop, contributing editor Thomas Crow tells us in the essay that opens “Back to Tomorrow,” the first of this issue’s five sections. If Crow tracks the dialectic back to the eighteenth century, our discussion begins in earnest in the 1950s with his excavation of an innovative two-year span in the life of Ark, the Royal College of Art journal, and the pre-Pop prescience there revealed. The historical terms of the Pop debate are fleshed out with a pair of texts: The perfervid pop love of critic and Independent Group spokesman Lawrence Alloway, whose little-known radio address “Pop Since 1949” is published here, goes up against the mandarin indifference of pure painting’s high priest, Clement Greenberg. Introduced by art historian James Meyer (who discovered the lecture in Greenberg’s papers at the Getty Research Institute), “Pop Art,” one of only two formal comments the critic made on the subject, is published here for the first time.

The story of Pop after Pop opens with a section called “Popisms,” a series of essays examining ten key moments in the history of Pop since the ’60s. From Bruce Hainley’s look at Jean-Christophe Ammann’s 1974 show “Transformer,” which took its name from the eponymous Lou Reed album, to Kitty Hauser’s discussion of Takashi Murakami’s 2000 manifesto and survey “Superflat,” this section revisits key interfaces between art and mass culture, with a close look at how these moments were written into Pop history.

Our discussion moves into the present in “Pop After Pop” and “This Is Today.” The former section comprises the transcripts of an online symposium and a glimpse into the making of a Jeff Koons painting; the latter, nine feature-length articles: five monographs (each highlights an artist who engages pop material in a different and exemplary way) and four thematic essays investigating modulations in appropriation (high) and sampling (low)—a conceptual leitmotif of the issue. The symposium, “Pop After Pop: A Roundtable,” brings together seven far-flung panelists: contributing editors Crow and Rhonda Lieberman, artists Jeff Wall and Stephen Prina, curator and critic Alison Gingeras, social critic Diedrich Diederichsen, and Artforum editor Tim Griffin.

“Is there life after Warhol, and if so, what does it look like?” we asked the roundtable. Jeff Wall answers in the affirmative, but suggests that he doesn’t necessarily like what he sees; we need not live our lives or make our art at the mercy of every “flicker of meaning emitted by Hollywood”; the Warhol trick, he tells us, doesn’t work the same way the second time around. Wall sees art in the shadow of Warhol as hostage to “the second appearance,” to the endless recycling of past inventions, a relinquishing of the higher purposes of art. His fellow panelists largely agree that the second appearance—the sampled, the appropriated, the parasitic, and the performed—is an inescapable given, but for them the question is, rather, where do we go from there? In Murakami’s work, for instance, Diederichsen sees not merely superflat triviality, but an artist who updates Pop’s “art director” model for a new moment in our culture of communications. And, in chorus with Gingeras, he appreciates in the work of German painter and “performer” Martin Kippenberger a theater of all-too-human affect that, taken together with the trail of art objects he leaves behind him, is both update and antidote to Andy’s deadpan shtick.

In sorting out the expanded Warhol, the Warhol of the demonized post-Factory transgressions—in separating the wheat from the trash, the dérive from the dreck—a map emerged that suddenly looked more recognizable, more adequate to us than any that had preceded it. Crow cautions against the easy, default notion that the practices of a Warhol or, to extend the discussion into the present, a Koons, “erased any operative distinction” between, say, “commerce and the old, disinterested aesthetic ideal,” that they constitute an “achieved breakdown of the barrier between popular and elite cultures”; and yet, seconding Diederichsen, he asserts that Kippenberger, like Warhol, was “‘a man of . . . narratives and contexts’ rather than of aesthetically compressed single objects.” “The fact,” he continues, “that all these artists have exerted an influence that can’t easily be ascribed to some inner quality of the objects they generate just points to the more fundamental activity of world making and launching narratives enacted by the entities with which they populate or furnish those worlds.”

So a maker of objects and a performer of mysteries. As Pierre Huyghe remarks in his “My Warhol” (a section comprising personal reflections on Andy and his influence by fourteen artists and a poet), “It’s interesting that Warhol’s ultimate object was himself, because he was still making artworks too. That’s the beauty of it—the ambiguity, the in-between. Warhol is not just the paintings and the films. And he’s not just the Pope of the Factory. He embodies both these mechanisms at once—the product and the celebrity.” Exploding the “popular” as a notion that bears any stable meaning, Crow, comparing Warhol’s work to Koons’s, notes that “there’s an encyclopedic quality to the range of subcultural zones from which both artists have drawn, the sense of a varied and conflicted world being created, which maps the world we know in ways that make it just recognizable—but fascinating on account of that strangeness.” Crow’s is an older, more abiding view of the reciprocity of art and pop. Indeed, it is curious that when we come to Warhol today—to his paintings, to his movies, to his words and wares, and finally to the business-art wherewithal that, in poise with the objects he produced, is precisely the Warhol in question—the artist we rediscover no longer seems the toxic herald of this letter’s opening gambit, but an oddly reassuring, unimaginably capacious register of what it is like to live and to desire in our modern-day image-world.

Where, we ask, are the payoffs? As ever, they are found not in paradigms (promiscuous or reputable) but in the epiphanic encounters that test and strain them. On one end of the spectrum of Pop-after-Pop possibility, we discover the jaw-droppingly unexpected—and gut-wrenchingly funny—compressions in Los Super Elegantes’s theater of cross-cultural misrecognition. (In David Rimanelli’s careful-not-to-kill-it reading, their recent Tunga’s House Bar proves itself both “Pop” and “deep.”) At the other extreme, we find the meditative samplings of Louise Lawler, who, in her 1988 work Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?, posed the question that precipitated this issue.

The bad news for the Warhol wannabes who suffer Jeff Wall’s indifference in our roundtable, and the good news for the many artists in this issue who will no doubt bridle at the Pop-after-Pop moniker, is that, though history may repeat itself, nothing ever happens the same way twice.

Guest Editor