Group Show

High pop

28 April – 15 May 1993

Pop makes images of objects, and art, objects of images. As a culture of consumption, pop trades in information and commodities that court, and continually reorient, social desire. Art on the other hand, is, in the short term at least, sociologically useless, and is therefore free to be whatever it wants to be. In the wake of the first wave of media culture, art chose to be precisely what pop was not-autonomous and self-referential. By the time pop came knocking at art's door, strict codes of admission were firmly in place, excluding the avant-garde media-fiend on quasi-religious grounds.

With its subject matter ready-made in culture, Pop art (of the Warholian kind) clashed head-on with transcendental modernism, graphically contravening prevailing regimes of aesthetic protocol. Enshrining the lowly icon and the lure of celebrity, Pop art proposed a radically different agenda for high culture. No longer outside the system, art became, for the pop-faithful, the ultimate commodity showcase, making objects of veneration from culture's most emblematic forms, or as Mary Anne Staniszewski states (in Post-Pop Art, 1989), "translat[ing] the abstracted domain of capital into marketable pictures."

While Pop art broke into the house of high culture, post-Pop set up camp within its crumbling edifice, renegotiating art's epistemic space, in the age of pop. Focusing more on the media process than the tactical displacement of its products, post-Pop artists (e.g., Steinbach, Sherman, Kruger, Koons) were concerned
primarily with finally divesting high culture of its mythical sovereignty, while reconstructing its critical authority by dent of association with theories of commodification, simulation, and the politics of representation. Post-Pop, in step with postmodernity, was interdisciplinary and
transcontextual, conflating the abstract and the concrete, the high and the low, to redefine art as faithless expressionism, and/or socio-cultural metacritique.

The works in this exhibition elaborate upon the history of high/low relations. Howard Arkley's pop-painterly renderings of the suburban habitat, the mass-cultural ground zero, relocate the modernist sublime within the decorative. Arkley's air-brushed, gesture-free application of paint results in a clean, bold, illustrative quality that signals an allegiance to both art and culture. Likewise, Constanze Zikos's lurid fusion of Iaminex and Greek-ethnic iconography, proposes a high domesticity that, though more abstract than Arkley's world, is no less grounded in cultural reference. As a kind of contemporary pop classicism, the works of both artists negate, yet reaffirm, art's separation from culture. 

In a similar fashion, Matthys Gerber blends the language of pop with the history of art. Though drawing on a wide variety of low-grade sources-porn, campery, cheesy icons and archetypes-the Gerber oeuvre is bound by an unabashed lasciviousness. These larger-than-life, mock objets d'art usher in the sweet guilty pleasures that the tastemaster masks over. As with Kathy Temin's furry modernity, Gerber splices tack to good taste. Temin's materials (fake fur and related haberdashery) have passed from kitsch, to camp, to comic relief. As the means by which to repose formalist questions ( or "problems," as these works are titled), this tacky materiality-a postmodern modernism-both satirizes and reanimates canonical taste.

Like Arkley and Gerber, Linda Marrinan has mixed high with low for some time now, to forge subtly parodic cultural amalgams. In her most recent pictures, Marrinan combines a highly mannered painterly technique with a cuddly, caricatural figuration, creating comic-perverse depictions of hapless, bug-eyed archetypes. As with the absurdly casual artistry of Angela Brennan, there is a faux nai've quality to these cartoon Picassos that simultaneously subverts and reinvents the codes of high cultural iconography. Brennan's schizophrenic genre-hopping takes in a dizzying array of representational and nonrepresentational forms. Although consistently styleless and informal, the disparate subject matter gives rise to a quirky set of associations ranging across all manner of cultural divisions.

These artists extend the post-Pop trajectory beyond quotation, into the paradoxical realm of second-degree, primary invention. The passage from Pop art, to post-Pop, to High Pop, parallels the gradual collapse of art into culture. Stripped of its essentialist authority, art is simply highly coded material production, willed into being by its progenitors. Art culture, though self-differentiating, is constituted within a broader field of socio-cultural permissions. High Pop demonstrates art's distinction from, but grounding in, culture's founding narratives.

Ploughing the entertainment value of the pop image into the iconicity of the objet d'art, the works in this exhibition reconcile the critical freeze-frame of art with the dynamic seductiveness of culture. As analytical as they are celebratory, as self-reflexive as they arc authorial, these works rcfigurc the high by rcmodcling the low. As both object and image, High Pop is an art of culture.


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