Pop culture that's art-o-matic

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Pop culture that's art-o-matic

Before pop art came along in the late 1950s and 1960s, no one imagined that the image of Marilyn Monroe, hamburgers or Dick Tracy could become works of art. Decades later, a similar issue is being raised: Art critics around the world are now wondering how the social phenomenon that is the digital revolution will manifest itself in the art world.

To gain some insight into the artistic implications of the digital revolution, the curators at one of Seoul's major galleries, the Seoul Arts Center, are looking at pop art, one of more important artistic inspirations of the 20th century.

The exhibition "American Pop" features 52 works by 12 artists, mostly lithographic prints published in the 1960s. They were drawn from the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa and the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami.

"Where will today's art go?" asks Jo Sung-moon, curator at the Seoul Arts Center. "Only time can tell. We live in a broadband world now. Through the Internet revolution, society and the economy are going through structural changes that will influence art. Understanding American pop art allows us to see another time's similar conflicts and historical viewpoints between society and art."

The exhibition should delight art lovers and students since pop art has been only partially covered in the past, despite its popularity in Korea. According to the art critic Faye Hirsch, the Seoul exhibition marks "some very important firsts" in showing a diverse yet comprehensive exhibit of pop art of the 1960s and "present trends central to the understanding of pop prints."

Created in the heyday of post-World War II America, pop art signified an important turning point in society. Popular images taken from the worlds of mass production, mass consumption and mass media inspired a handful of artists who had turned away from abstract expressionism in search of something new. They tapped into the wealth of commercial images that inundated the western world, using the images familiar to their contemporaries and reflected the culture.

The hallmark artist of pop prints is Andy Warhol, who made prints with vernacular images, such as cartoon characters (Popeye and Superman), icons (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Mao Zedong) and familiar commodities (Coca-Cola and Campbell's soup cans).

To express the process of commercial printing, Roy Lichtenstein employed superenlarged, comic book-like benday dots.

Mel Ramos in Northern California created works based on Batman characters, and later developed his unique style by mixing nude models and brand-name goods appearing in advertisements, which was to define a clear relationship between sex and the commodity.

Robert Rauschenberg was one of first artists who came up with a new way to express the world's technological advances; his "assemblage" collages fused two-dimensional painting and three-dimensional objects. His use of common objects influenced Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann and other artists.

James Rosenquist, working in his lower Manhattan studio, produced sculptures in the form of hamburgers, ice cream and cake. Regarding "Cold Light," a series of lithographs, he raised a plaintive question at the height of consumptive culture in America: "Why aren't we doing something on the ground instead of spending money going to the moon? We can't eat the moon."

"American Pop" runs until Feb. 9 at the Hangaram Gallery in the Seoul Arts Center. The admission is 5,000 won ($4) for adults, 3,000 won for students. For information, call (02) 580-1300.

by Ines Cho

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