A funny thing happened to art on the way to the 21st century. Emboldened but not satisfied by the freedom-seeking surrealist and abstract expressionist movements, it parachuted out of its ivory tower and into the streets, where it fell in love with the everyday world of TV, magazines, comics, and consumable items. In short, art went pop — and it hasn't been the same since. “Pop!,” an exhibit of about 100 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper culled from local private collections and SFMOMA's holdings, opens this weekend at the museum to celebrate the movement that made us all take a second look at art.
Although a British critic, Lawrence Alloway, coined the term “pop art” to describe the rising tide of paintings and sculptures that immortalized prosaic objects in the '50s and '60s, the movement was primarily American and undeniably personified by New York Renaissance man Andy Warhol. Warhol's primitively literal paintings of Campbell's soup cans baffled a public that couldn't decide whether pop art was critiquing or celebrating consumer culture. Though “Pop!” represents Warhol via paintings like his celebrity-worshipping Triple Elvis from 1962, the exhibit reaches beyond his all-too-familiar iconography by including pieces by fellow New Yorkers such as the comic book-obsessed painter Roy Lichtenstein and painter/sculptor Jasper Johns, whose 1958 Flag — a slightly distressed painting of Old Glory — seems only too relevant now.
SFMOMA doesn't give all the credit to Gotham, either. “Pop!” also features pieces by California artists, who injected their own nuances into the mix. They include freaky ceramic-portrait sculptor Robert Arneson and painter Wayne Thiebaud, who has rendered Potrero Hill and hot fudge sundaes with the same intense colors. Most notably, the exhibit dedicates an entire room to the compelling word-centered gunpowder drawings and fine-art books of the S.F.-based Ed Ruscha, formerly a commercial artist.