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Pop Art Book

by Corinne Miller, Nadine Monem and Margaret Nugent, Editors
Black Dog Publishing, London, UK, 2007
196 pp., illus. 211 b/w, col. Trade, $39.95
ISBN: 1 904772 69 2.

Reviewed by Fred Andersson
Kämnärsvägen 7J: 238


In 1956, British artist Richard Hamilton sat down and pasted together some typical visual fragments of advertising and cheap consumption. The result was the collage, "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?", made for the group show "This is tomorrow" at Whitechapel in London. The word "POP" on a popsicle in that collage (or really on a collaged image of a popsicle) was later recognized as the origin of the Pop Art phenomenon. But collages made from cheap paper age rapidly, and in 1992 Hamilton had to convert it into a print. He also made a new, printed paraphrase that really shows how things had changed since 1956, and how the artist himself had grown old and sardonically nostalgic. The seated pin-up girl in the 1956 collage is here replaced by a standing female bodybuilder, and whilst the male protagonist of 1956 was an erect muscleman, here he is the typical nerd – seated and totally absorbed at his computer. The Robert Indiana paraphrase on the room's wall doesn't contain the original exclamation "LOVE", but instead "AIDS". And according to the title, the home isn't "appealing" anymore, only "different".

This telling diptych is included in the newly issued Pop Art Book from Black Dog Publishing, and in a way it's telling also for the ambitions of the book as a whole. The book tells the history of Pop Art from a distinctively British perspective, and it tries to underline the relevance of Pop Art for today's Society and today's cultural politics. Basically, the book is a visually appealing story of British artists consuming American culture, going to the States in the sweet Sixties, and busying themselves with American troubles. Its graphic design is flamboyant, and its visual material is exceedingly rich. There is a plentitude of differently coloured pages, of headlines with different fonts, of enlarged quotations, of details in the form of "cut-outs". There is also a lot of documentary images and reproductions of works. The introductory section even contains an instruction on how to "use" the book and its "interactive" elements – i.e. the cut-outs, some of which can be folded.

As for the discursive element, the text is divided into three main sections – "POP culture", "Politics," and "Consumerism". The main sections are in their turn divided into smaller sections with headlines ranging from A to W (or shorter), such as "American connections", "Brigitte Bardot", "Cowboys", "Fairground" and so on. Apart from well-known figures, such as Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake, a number of equally interesting but more anonymous British Pop artists are presented as the encyclopedic observations go on. Only one female artist, Pauline Boty, is mentioned. And it's a sad fact that she died too early (in 1966, at the age of only 28) to have the chance to fully develop her talent. As for the general impression, it's remarkable that a book that aims at telling the British history of Pop Art still relies so heavily on works by American artists. The presentation is contextualizing in an accessible and pedagogical manner, but its observations doesn't exceed the limits of mere political correctness. This book is an excellent present for persons who know little beforehand about Pop Art, or for one's children or teenagers, but it contains very little food for advanced reflection. And it doesn't parade as anything more than that, either.



Updated 1st October 2007

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