Special Features

March Issue 2001

Pop Impact! From Johns to Warhol

Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, at the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC, for Jan. 27 through Apr. 8, 2001

Essays and Photographs from the Exhibition Catalogue (In Part)

(Photographs and other information - choose these links: [ | February Article | Page 1 | Page 2 | ] )


by Maxwell L. Anderson, Director, Whitney Museum of American Art

Pop Art has remained an important force in the American artistic and popular imagination since its emergence in the late 1950s. Its antecedents may be found in the 1920s, when artists such as Stuart Davis and Gerald Murphy engaged with the metaphors and formal languages of advertising, which helped fuel America's economy. It flowered in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism, when the somewhat labored heroicism of the Action painters began to seem out of step with the realities of 1960s America. And its legacy has extended to the present. Many artists in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, for example, have chosen to work in opposition to the formal and iconographical features of Pop Art, only to find their work compared with or linked to the exuberant wonderment about and ironic appropriation of a uniquely American commercial vernacular evident in so many Pop emblems. The brash, youthful beginnings of Pop Art in the hands of such notable figures as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Claes Oldenburg have worn well over time; what was first incendiary has become iconic, but still remains every bit as fresh and rewarding.

Since the height of Pop, the Whitney Museum of American Art has organized or hosted exhibitions that have examined the movement from a range of perspectives. They include "American Pop Art" (1974), "Blam: The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance, 1958-64" (1984), and "Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition 1955-62"(1993). The current exhibition, "Pop Impact! From Johns to Warhol," is the first exhibition of Pop Art ever assembled exclusively from the Whitney's Permanent Collection, either for travel or for the galleries of the Museum itself. It is both the culmination of a generation of collecting and an exciting beginning for the Museum. We have been committed to supporting contemporary artists since our establishment in 1930, and in the 1960s the Museum's curators and patrons readily embraced the first glimmerings of what would come to be known as Pop Art. Of the forty works in the exhibition, the Museum acquired twenty-two within two years of their being made, and it continues to collect the work of many of the artists represented.

In the mid-1950s, just as the first suggestions of Pop were emerging, the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art was founded to raise funds to support major acquisitions. The Friends purchased the following works in the current exhibition: Jasper Johns' "Studio", Marisol's "Women and Dog," Claes Oldenburg's "Giant Fagends," Robert Rauschenberg's "Summer Rental + 2," Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Can I," and Tom Wesselmann's "Great American Nude, #57." In the early 1960s, the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation made an initial gift of thirty works to enhance the Museum's collection of younger American artists. The following Lipman Foundation works are in this exhibition: Robert Indiana's "Mate" and "LOVE;" Johns' "Light Bulb," "Bread," and "The Critic Smiles;" Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Sculpture with Velvet Rope"; Oldenburg's "Ice Bag - Scale C;" and Wesselmann's "Seascape Number 15."

This exhibition inaugurates a dedicated program of touring exhibitions of works from the Whitney's collection that is intended to reaffirm the Museum's national reach by providing communities across the country with a first-hand look at important works from the nation's preeminent museum devoted to modern and contemporary American art. We have embarked on this program with a sense of pride in the contributions that the artists represented in each exhibition have made to American culture, in our unswerving dedication to championing new work and situating it in a larger artistic and cultural context, and in our commitment of extending the Museum's services to communities across the US and overseas.

I would like to extend my particular thanks to our colleagues at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, with whom we are collaborating in the organization of this exhibition and the publication of this accompanying brochure. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the fine work of Jill Snyder, Director, and Kristin Chambers, Associate Curator, of the CCCA.

At the Whitney, I am grateful to Beth Venn, Curator of the Touring Exhibitions Program, and (Introduction by Shamim M. Momin), Assistant Curator in the Program, for leading this effort on behalf of the Museum and for conceiving and assembling this exhibition. We look forward to many other such projects in the years ahead - projects intended to highlight the Whitney's American focus and to enhance its international reputation, national reach, and local impact.

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