Following down the path forged a few years prior by Neo-Dada in the United States and by Nouveau Réalisme in France, one of the most influential art movements of the post-war period was born, once again on both shores of the Atlantic Ocean: Pop Art.
Even if the word “pop” is an abbreviation of “popular,” Pop Art is not so much a form of folk art or a craft, but rather a kind of art that speaks a language almost everyone understands: that of the mass media, advertising, television, film and cartoons. In other words: art that borrows the style of images that define modern consumer society.
Although it wasn’t an avant-garde movement in the classic sense of the word (there was no manifesto and no ideological/artistic program), Pop Art was a large-scale phenomenon that initially engaged US and English artists to then spread to other countries.
Among British Pop artists, Richard Hamilton is undoubtedly worth mentioning, especially for his Just What is it that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? One of the most famous collages of the 20th century, it was used as the cover image for the historic This is Tomorrow exhibition held in London in 1956, which officially marked the start of the English Pop Art movement.
In Hamilton’s piece, created by gluing cut-out portions of different magazines together to form a collage, a bodybuilder and a young pin-up pose in an average consumer-society home complete with a television (which is on, of course), a tape deck and a pleather love seat.
But the center of the Pop Art universe was in the US, and the most brilliant star in that galaxy was undoubtedly Andy Warhol.
The quintessential Pop artist, Warhol’s oeuvre is practically a catalog of the images and idols of American popular culture: from the face of Marilyn Monroe to the bottles of Coca-Cola, and from the symbolic dollar to Campbell’s soup.
To create his pieces, Warhol made extensive use of silkscreens, a modern (for the time) technique that made it possible, on the one hand, to borrow images taken from the world of mass media and, on the other, to obsessively repeat them so as to reinforce the message.
Fundamentally, Warhol was a brilliant “recorder” of the world around him. And his work perhaps shared the same common thread that connected all Pop artists of the era: the idea that you cannot portray contemporary society without first passing through the filter of a printed image or television screen.