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POP ART by Steven Henry Madoff

POP ART

A Critical History

By Steven Henry Madoff

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-520-21018-2
Publisher: Univ. of California

 A useful if dense compilation of texts illuminating Pop Art's historical origins, inception, rise to success, and legacy. Among the materials Madoff, former executive editor of ARTnews, has gathered is a terse, fascinating letter by the British artist Richard Hamilton concerning the 1957 ``This Is Tomorrow'' exhibition, regarded as the first Pop Art show. A 1958 article by Lawrence Alloway, who coined the term ``Pop,'' defiantly announces the vitality and importance of the mass arts, as opposed to the old elitist fine arts. Madoff next samples the critics' response to America's outbreak of Pop (which was initially referred to as Neo- Dada), including pieces on the ``four-headed goliath'' of the movement, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, and Oldenburg. The book's final section offers a handful of essays (by, among others, Roland Barthes and Robert Hughes) written up to 30 years after Pop's emergence. What comes through within this simple yet generous framework is a good measure of skepticism and fear about Pop's importance, mixed with some serious attempts to locate the meaning of art that mimicked our fascination with the representational image, an art nurtured by, in the words of Henry Geldzahler, the ``popular press, . . . the movie closeup, black and white, technicolor and wide screen, the billboard extravaganzas, and finally . . . television.'' There is clarity in Hamilton's analysis (Pop Art is, he writes, ``popular . . . transient . . . expendable''), as well as in the later essays, where distance aids the effort to define goals, impact, and meaning. But the bulk of the material has to be waded through, congested as it is with the struggle to process the onslaught of new media assailing the public. Readers will have to distill their own meaning and context for Pop Art from this anthology. It is not a cozy read, but a necessary compendium to slip on and off of the shelf. (8 color, 17 b&w illustrations, not seen)