Sub Pop

Despite its candy-coated allure, SLAM's Pop Impressions illustrates a movement gone sour

In 1957, Richard Hamilton produced a proto-pop description of the emerging style: "Pop Art is Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business." This litany just doesn't seem to describe the works in Pop Impressions. Interestingly enough, however, it does describe the reproductions of the works as they appear in the exhibition catalog, where they look brighter and saucier than the "originals," featured as they are in snazzy page layouts and sandwiched between seductive covers. It seems that the pop insistence on mass production has come full circle, and now the works can be properly experienced only in catalog reproductions.

But in addition to all of this, what else can we learn from Pop Impressions Europe/USA? A couple of points are worth mentioning. The exhibition is instructive as to the role Europeans played in the formation of the pop-art canon. In this country, the pop-art genealogy usually goes something like this: Marcel Duchamp to Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to Warhol and Lichtenstein and Oldenburg. This exhibition features the oft-overlooked works of the German capitalist realism group, which included Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Wolf Vostell. And we are reminded of just how British pop art actually is, with representative pieces by Hamilton, Peter Blake, Richard Smith, Allen Jones and Gerald Laing.

A few of the pieces tell us something of the new relationships forged between artists and publishers, and emerging distribution practices, during this period. Andy Warhol's book "Flash -- November 22, 1963" (1968) was commissioned by Racolin Press, for example -- an extremely unusual occurrence for Warhol. And Gerhard Richter's "Airplane I" (1966) was published by Edition Rottloff and distributed by Kaufhof, the German department store -- an interesting point when one remembers that the first capitalist realist actions were also held in department-store windows.

Richard Hamilton's "Interior," 1964. Hamilton offered an early description of the emerging style of pop art: "Pop Art is Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business."
Richard Hamilton's "Interior," 1964. Hamilton offered an early description of the emerging style of pop art: "Pop Art is Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business."

Details

St. Louis Art Museum; through Sept. 3

All this history is important, no doubt. But Pop Impressions Europe/USA feels too much like history, and -- lamentably -- not enough like pop.

SLAM has developed three accompanying exhibitions of pop art from its own collection, and they are mounted in the main (read "free") galleries. Many of SLAM's works are every bit as interesting as the things in Pop Impressions. And if you can find it, don't miss the minuscule exhibition POP! Design from the Collection, ghettoized (as all the design pieces are) in the bowels of the basement in Gallery 130. Seeing the red 1969 Olivetti Valentine Portable Typewriter with carrying case alone will be worth the trip.

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