American POP! Selections from the CU Art Museum Collection


In the heyday of the 1960s, artists in the United States turned an eye on the wonderful—and sometimes wild—images of American consumer culture. Pop artists reveled in the vibrancy of the urban landscape and in the bounty of the post-World War II economic boom. They adopted images from mass media, billboards, cartoons, tabloid magazines and advertisements. Pop Art glorified and parodied the “things”of everyday life.

Bold and outrageous, Pop art embodied the optimism and the energy of the times. The 1960s was the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, psychedelics, student activism—and the proliferation of television sets in American homes. Pop artists looked aesthetically at the mundane imagery of middle-class consumer culture, and then transposed it with traditional fine art techniques. As artist and critic Max Kozloff said, “Anything goes, just as anything goes on the street.”

Pop art is extroverted. It rejected the emotional angst and the romanticism of Abstract Expressionism, the revered style of an elder generation. Lucy Lippard summarized Pop artists’ radical attitude: Pop chose to depict everything previously considered unworthy of notice, let alone of art; every level of advertising, Times Square jokes, tasteless bric-a-brac and gaudy furnishings, ordinary clothes and food, film stars, pin-ups, cartoons. Nothing was sacred, and the cheaper and more despicable the better.

At first, the established art world despised Pop art. It was considered trendy and facile. Critics mockingly called Pop artists “new vulgarians,” “American sign painters,” “urban folk artists” and “new Regionalists.” However, their familiar, often amusing images were an instant hit with the public.

Not unlike Regionalist artists, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Pop artists adopted a thoroughly democratic platform. Although anti-academic, Pop art is strongly ironic and is, inherently, a form of cultural critique. While these rowdy and fun-loving images amuse us, they also examine the authority of materialism in American.

Although critics predicted that Pop art would die a quick death, it has in fact paved the way for a generation of artists who explore our relationship with the media and the symbols of our everyday landscape.

This exhibition wil be on view May 4-September 8, 2013.

Organized by the CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder


Companion Exhibitions

Pushing the Envelope (Family Gallery) · May 4-August 11
Pop Art Soup (Studio1) · July 13-October 20


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The following are sponsors of American POP! and its education programs








image: John Baeder, Yankee Clipper Diner, 1980, serigraph, gift of Joseph Schuster, CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder.