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Pop Art and the Independent Group

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Pop Art made habitual reference to mass culture: the ephemera of advertising, packaging, comic strips and Hollywood films. What Clement Greenberg dismissed as kitsch, Pop artists exhibited as art. Pop Art tried to dissolve into each other the categories o

Pop Art made habitual reference to mass culture: the ephemera of advertising, packaging, comic strips and Hollywood films. What Clement Greenberg dismissed as kitsch, Pop artists exhibited as art. Pop Art tried to dissolve into each other the categories of high and mass culture, fine and commercial art, or to quote Greenberg, Avant-garde and kitsch - categories which had previously been considered separate.

The Independent Group was a collective of artists which met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London between 1952 and 1955. One of the most famous works at the IG’s This is Tomorrow exhibition, and one considered iconic of early pop was Richard Hamilton’s collage ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ This was exhibited as a page in the exhibition catalogue. Though Marco Livingstone has remarked that it is uncharacteristic of Hamilton’s work in this period it is nevertheless seen as one of the earliest examples of Pop Art, being a collage of images of consumerism and popular entertainment.

The assemblage of pre-existing images perhaps exhibits a reluctance to actively engage with them, preferring to adopt a distant, critical stance. With a sense of clinical detachment, images of popular culture are juxtaposed with corporate identity and transport (the Ford insignia) advertising (the Hoover advert), comic strips (mounted on the wall instead of a painting), muscle men and pin-up girls. These are arranged as a room - an environment that completely encloses its inhabitants, so despite its humorous tone, the work presents them as potentially suffocating. This is most evident in Hamilton’s use of a photo of a beach crowded with people for the room’s carpet and one of Earth as the ceiling - as if mass culture, being the first universal culture ever known, threatens to homogenize people and whole societies into one seamless mass.

Allusions to mass culture are present in the poster for The Jazz Singer, labour saving devices, the tape recorder on the floor and the Hoover on the stairs. Some of the objects are presented in bizarre terms by placing them in unlikely situations - the comic on the wall (instead of a painting); the Ford badge, not on a car, but on a lampshade; and the giant lollipop held by the muscle-man. The pin-up girl is juxtaposed with a tin of ham - commenting on mass culture’s tendency to treat women as commodities through glamourization and fetishization.

 

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