Pop art

The rare gifts of Peter Doig

‘My basic intention,’ the late Patrick Caulfield once told me, ‘is to create some attractive place to be, maybe even on the edge of fantasy — warm, glowing, but often, by use, rather seedy.’ He frequently succeeded, as you can see from a beautifully mounted little exhibition at the Waddington Custot Gallery. It is a reminder of what a witty and inventive artist Caulfield (1936–2005) could be. Four screen prints from 1971, ‘Interior: Morning, Noon, Evening and Night’, give a virtuoso display of the visual legerdemain he could work using the simplest of props. These all have the same basic design: a window frame, consisting of thick, black lines, with

The possibilities of paint

‘The possibilities of paint,’ Frank Bowling has observed, ‘are endless.’ The superb career retrospective of his work at Tate Britain demonstrates as no words could that he is correct, and that the obituaries of this perennial medium — so often declared moribund or defunct — are completely wrong. This presents more than half a century’s virtuoso exploration of what pigment on canvas can achieve. After his first decade of work, Bowling (born 1934) became what is called an abstract artist. But that is a vague and unsatisfactory category. His early, figurative pictures such as ‘Cover Girl’ (1966) could be labelled ‘pop’. It features an image of a Japanese supermodel garnered

Searching high and low

In the Moderna Museet in Stockholm there is a sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, which references Chekhov’s famous story ‘Lady with a Dog’. It was part of a Jeff Koons mini-show. At the time (2014), I thought it was by Koons. The postcard disabused me. It shows a woman in unapologetic Barbara Cartland pink, with a parasol, accompanied by a white fighting Pekinese. Both are constructed entirely from shells — she mainly scallop shells, her ample bust the bulging hinge of a clam, her arms fashioned from auger shells like mini-whelks. We have seen this ‘art’ before in a thousand evening classes for housewives who couldn’t get into the over-subscribed flower-arranging

American quartet

Politics and art can make for an awkward mix. Much more than with religious subjects it seems to matter whether the viewer shares the artist’s beliefs. But whatever you think of Richard M. Nixon, it would be hard not to enjoy Philip Guston’s satirical drawings of him and his cronies at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row. These were the most exuberant, scatological, obsessive and imaginative such works since 1937 when Picasso produced an extraordinary strip-cartoon vilification and lampoon entitled ‘The Dream and Lie of Franco’. Indeed, the two series have a good deal in common. Picasso portrayed the Generalissimo as a sort of obscene, moustachioed set of bagpipes. Similarly, Guston

Paradise lost | 9 March 2017

The American dream was a consumerist idyll: all of life was to be packaged, stylised, affordable and improvable. Three bedrooms, two-point-five children, two cars and one mortgage. The sense was first caught by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835–40), where he talks about a people more excited by success than fearful of failure. We all know when the dream died: on 9 November 2016. People in Brooklyn were crying. In Manhattan they couldn’t breathe. A national angst had been revealed: the land of plenty had become the land of the plenty cross. But when did the dream start? There was the Jeffersonian trinity of life, liberty and the

American psyche

The latest exhibition at the Royal Academy is entitled America after the Fall. It deals with painting in the United States during the 1930s: that is, the decade before the tidal surge of abstract expressionism. So this show is a sort of prequel to the RA’s great ab ex blockbuster of last autumn. It might have been called, ‘Before Jackson Began Dripping’. Not much in this selection, though, can compare to the power of the abstract expressionists at their peak in the Forties and Fifties — not even an early work by Pollock himself. But it does include a couple of masterpieces by Edward Hopper, plus several pictures so brashly

Laura Freeman

On the make

Rudolfo Paolozzi was a great maker. In the summer, he worked almost without stopping in the family’s ice-cream shop, making gallon after gallon of vanilla custard. In the slack winter months, when the shop made its money on cigarettes and sweets, he built radios from odds and sods. It was on one of these homemade radios that he heard Mussolini’s declaration, on 10 June 1940, that Italy, the country he had left for Scotland 20 years before, had entered the war. That night a mob attacked the ice-cream shop at 10 Albert Street, off Leith Walk in Edinburgh. The family lived above the shop and later, Rudolfo’s son Eduardo, then

The woman who invented selfies

It took a while for Brigid and I to get to know each other, not to mention like each other. But then it was total lifelong devotion. At first, when I started out at Interview, in 1970, Brigid would give me The Glare, which was the negative equivalent of Nancy Reagan’s The Gaze. One or two seconds of that killing look were enough to put across Brigid’s message: stay away. But a few years later, she gave up speed, moved to a proper apartment on East 22nd Street, and took a steady job as receptionist and transcriber of Andy Warhol’s tapes at the new Factory at 860 Broadway. That was

First Lady of Pop Art

In 1961 the Venezuelan-American sculptor Marisol Escobar made a startling appearance at the New York artists’ group known as the Club that would set the tone for her unconventional career. The Club was where the alphas of contemporary American art met. Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and their ilk gathered there to take part in discussions, listen to talks, and escape their families. Abstract Expressionism was the house style and in its early days women, homosexuals and communists were all barred from membership. The Club was male, cliquey, exclusive and drenched in its own importance so when Marisol, as she was always known, arrived to participate in a

‘So quick and chancy’

When asked the question ‘What is art?’, Andy Warhol gave a characteristically flip answer (‘Isn’t that a guy’s name?’). On another occasion, however, he produced a more thoughtful response: ‘Does it really come out of you or is it a product? It’s complicated.’ Indeed, it’s those complications that make Warhol’s works compelling, as is demonstrated by a new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. One is that it is hard to tell how much he was really in control. When you look at one of his pictures, are you really looking at the work of his assistants or, indeed, of chance? And the way he forces you to think about

In a class of their own

Painters and sculptors are highly averse to being labelled. So much so that it seems fairly certain that, if asked, Michelangelo would have indignantly repudiated the suggestion that he belonged to something called ‘the Renaissance’. Peter Blake is among the few I’ve met who owns up to being a member of a movement; he openly admits to being a pop artist. The odd thing about that candid declaration is that I’m not sure he really is one. A delightful exhibition at the Waddington Custot Gallery presents Blake in several guises, including photorealist and fantasist, but — although one of the exhibits is an elaborate shrine in honour of Elvis Presley

Bursting the bubble

The conventional history of modern art was written on the busy Paris-New York axis, as if nowhere else existed. For a while, nowhere else did. People wondered, for example, whyever the mercurial Whistler volunteered for the unventilated backwaters of Britain. But London was eventually allowed into the international conversation following successful pop eruptions that began in the Fifties. Germany followed. Now, perhaps as a response to a wired and borderless planet, where images can be instantaneously transmitted and sacred cows may be frivolously slaughtered, there is a revisionist and more inclusive policy for entrance to art’s pantheon. The braided cord has been lifted. Everyone can join the club. New York’s

I reshot Andy Warhol

It’s one thing to make the most boring film in cinema history — at least you can kid yourself at the outset that it might turn out differently. It’s quite another to lovingly recreate the same film half a century later, shot by eye-bleeding shot, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, I’m proud to say. I say shot by shot, but since Andy Warhol’s Empire consists of a single locked-off shot of the Empire State Building running to 8 hours 5 minutes in black-and-white yawn-o-vision, that’s not much to write home about. Nor is the rest of the movie, from almost any popcorn-munching perspective you can think of. With

Eastern reflections

In his introductory remarks to the Afro–Eurasian Eclipse, one of his later suites for jazz orchestra, Duke Ellington remarked — this was in 1971 — that east and west were blending into one another, and everyone was in danger of losing his or her identity. Nowhere is it easier to observe that phenomenon than on the little island of Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which I visited last month. Naoshima possesses sandy beaches and tranquil blue waters dotted with further islets stretching towards the horizon. But this is an especially heavenly spot for a relatively small and specialised, even eccentric, group of travellers. For more than two

Does Allen Jones deserve a retrospective at the Royal Academy?

It has been a vintage season for mannequins. At the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, an exhibition called Silent Partners looks at the relationship between artist and mannequin, from function to fetish. In London, the Royal Academy is hosting a retrospective of the work of British artist and Academician Allen Jones. Jones, who is now 77, became obsessed with mass-produced imagery of eroticised women. As the show makes clear, he never really got over it. During the 1960s, Jones emerged as a leading pop artist. His contemporaries at the Royal College of Art included Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney, but he was expelled after a year. His big break came in

The pop artist whose transgressions went too far – for the PC art world

Allen Jones (born 1937) has been demonised. In 1969 he made a group of three sculptures of scantily-clad female figures. They were slightly larger than life and arranged in positions that enabled them (with the addition of a glass top or padded seat) to be turned into a table, a chair and a hat stand. These super-mannequins were highly modelled, wigged and leather-booted, and unavoidably realistic. When first exhibited in 1970 they provoked outrage among the feminist community. Jones’s 1978 retrospective of graphic art at the ICA caused a near riot even though the sculptures weren’t shown. In 1986, when the chair went on display, it had acid thrown over

Jeff Koons’s latest achievement: a new standard in prolix, complacent, solipsistic, muddled drivel

Jeff Koons is, by measures understood in Wall Street, the most successful living artist. But he’s a slick brand manager rather than a tormented creative soul. The Koons brand includes a stainless steel bust of Louis XIV, a red aluminium lobster and balloon dogs, plus countless knock-offs of novelty-store dross. It is tempting to think Koons a vulgarian and condemn his art as crapola, but to do so would be lazy. There’s no point in criticising him for his cynical exploitation of the credulous art market, since that is exactly his intention. Futile to damn him as vacuous; he’d be flattered. All artistic achievement can be assessed in terms of

Where’s the fun, Barbican? 

Pop Art Design, curated by the Vitra Design Museum and currently at the Barbican, opens with Richard Hamilton’s 1956 ‘Just what makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’. Made as a poster for the Whitechapel show This is Tomorrow, it’s a witty collage of consumer fantasies scissored out of magazines, reminding us that interest in popular culture among British artists operated as a humorous, semi-anthropological collegiate research project. In part, British Pop was a riposte to the lushness of American consumerism from a small island that had won the war but had lost the peace. Pop Art in the United States got under way later and many American Pop artists

How Roy Lichtenstein became weighed down with superficiality

On both sides of the Atlantic there are still heated debates about who invented Pop Art, the Americans or the British, but it seems much more probable that concurrently each initiated their own brand in response to the zeitgeist of post-war consumerism. Certainly, the American Roy Lichtenstein (1923–97), after near-abstract beginnings, started in 1961 to paint large freehand versions of comic-strip frames, complete with speech bubbles, and exhibited them in New York in the first Pop Art shows. He moved on a bit from comic strips to Disney, advertising and the ordinary objects of the modern environment, and developed a style of measured drawing and stencils that broke up colour