TRAVEL HERE: DMA TALK EXPLAINS WHY INTERNATIONAL POP IS ART
About a month ago I went to a party to kick-off the International Pop Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. It was a fun party, but I didn’t love the art. To complicate my appreciation of the exhibition, the museum changed their MO.
In the past, exhibition-opening parties included a brief talk about the art, so even if I didn’t love the works, I could at least understand why I should appreciate them. For some reason, for this exhibition, the museum separated these two components. Recently, I was invited back to the museum for a little pop education. This is what I learned.
Why the Exhibit is International, Not Global
Global, International, World-wide – whatever – right? Well, not exactly. While the words may be synonymous, they are not necessarily repetitious.
I’ve always liked the word “International.” International airports. International arrivals. International departures. International Man of Mystery. What’s not to love?
I haven’t been as fond of “Global.” Take Global Warming, which they morphed into Climate Change. Or the Global Economy, which is never in very good shape. Really, what is there to love?
Gabriel Ritter, The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and curator of International Pop, explained why “International” was the appropriate term for the DMA’s Pop Art Exhibition and it made a lot of sense. It also sounded like another reason why I prefer “international” to “global.”
Today’s world is global. A tree falls in the Ecuadoran rain forest and within moments a tree hugger in Big Sur knows about it. The tree hugger has never been to Ecuador, may never have spoken to anyone in Ecuador, may not even know anything about the type of tree that fell, but through the world wide web he/she can have a finger on the global tree population.
The spread of Pop Art was international. Artists and art works traveled between countries sharing ideas in the first person. They collaborated in real time in the same room. Online meetings, email, texting, social media – it’s all great, but one of my hobby horses is that there is nothing like really being there.
I’ve taken online classes and I’ve been in the brick and mortar classroom. The brick and mortar classes are superior experiences in my book. I learned more, still retain more and enjoyed the classes more. Just as I love checking Facebook to see what is up with my buddies, but I like sitting down with them even better. So, just call me pro-international.
What Impressionism and Pop Art Have in Common
Don’t blame Gabriel Ritter for this, because he did not say it, but I walked away from the lecture understanding Pop Art better, when I realized it had things in common with Impressionism. Impressionism, which is one of my favorite genres, was not universally embraced when it first came on the scene and people like me still don’t embrace Pop Art, but both movements were a reaction to what was happening in the world.
The Impressionistic movement, was a reaction to photography, which gave painting a run for its money. A box of technology could perfectly capture a scene in a way centuries of paintings could not replicate. Almost immediately the influence of photography showed up in paintings.
Degas, a prolific photographer, is famous for his paintings of ballet dancers. It seems to me that in many of these paintings he was experimenting with angles, like a child randomly snapping photos, capturing parts of instruments in a painting of dancers and then getting dancers legs in a painting of the orchestra. Yet he also has pictures where he carefully sets up his subjects to capture a certain type of light or to utilize a mirror for a special effect, just like an accomplished photographer would. I see these experiments as his impressionistic response to photography.
Since cameras could duplicate the visual details of a scene, Impressionists endeavored to impart other information with their work. I’m particularly fond of Van Gogh, because his staccato stabs of paint and distinctive swirls suggest fragrance, light, wind movement and sound in a way traditional paintings and the newfangled photography of his day never did. Looking back at these artists, I love what they were doing and the chances they were taking in their art. Perhaps if I’d been alive at the time, I would be as persnickety about Impressionism as I am Pop Art.
Just as the Impressionist reacted to the photographic images of their day, Mr. Ritter explained how Pop Artist reacted to the pervasive visual media of their day. The photograph had turned into television and movies. Newspapers and magazines were awash with photography. Advertisers were trying to spin our tastes wherever we turned and we Americans were assumed to be the worst offenders of this taste intrusion.
Pop Art pushed back. It made light of the serious business of media. In his talk, Mr. Ritter went through a series of slides (some of works in the exhibition, some images from elsewhere) and described how each work responded to something happening in the world during the Sixties (and the years immediately before and after the Sixties.) I just wish they would have pushed back with more attractive images.
My Instincts Were Not Wrong
The lecture helped me understand the Pop Artists a little more. I could see what they were trying to say, but what I learned didn’t create a greater affection for Pop Art. See, I disagree with the ancient Greek philosophers. They prized ideas over technology. A sculptor was merely a gifted craftsman. I prefer the work of the craftsman and I elevate him to the position of artist.
Modern art returns to the opinions of this aggrandizement of the idea over execution of the idea. Who cares if the execution of an idea is imperfect, if the idea is original and slightly provocative? Well, actually I do.
Down the street from the DMA, the Crow Collection is exhibiting works by Andrew Gorlizki, who comes up with ideas in New York which are executed by artisans and craftsmen India. I understand why museum curators consider Andrew Gorlizki to be the “artist”, but to me, those guys with the single bristled paint brushes are the real artists. Gorlizki is more like a patron, offering ideas and a studio. However, I’m merely a travel and lifestyle blogger, not a specialist in the arts, so I don’t count. (Thankfully, I also get to state my opinion without having to back it up with volumes of proof.)
In addition to my preference for craftsmen, I find the ridicule the Pop Artists intended towards America stings me a little bit. America is a large target for disdain and in spite of all our noble endeavors, it seems as if the world chooses to focus on our faults. It’s an old song and I’m weary of it. I sensed the artists’ disdain, even before I was informed of it.
My initial reaction to most of the items in the International Pop Art exhibition was, “Really? Are you serious?” My informed reaction is not very different. Once I was in on the joke, my opinion of several of the pieces rose and a few tickled my funny bone, but I still find most of the items downright ugly and many are still offensive. I hear what they are saying, but I would respect the message more if there was more craftsmanship.
Here’s my bottom line. When it comes to art, you don’t have to like everything you see, but you should at least try to understand it. If, after you understand it, you still don’t like it, that’s OK. What do you think?