How Pop Art Has Influenced Pop Culture Today

Produced in association with The Art Gallery of NSW.
Like every kid who had the fortune of growing up in Matt Groening & co.’s creative golden age, I absorbed all my cultural cues from The Simpsons. It added words like “Aurora Borealis”, “Chowder”, “Thomas Edison” and “Kwijibo” into my vocabulary, and I’m genuinely thankful for the excess of relatively useless historical factoids it engrained into my brain during its legendary 6pm timeslot.

So, it’s fitting that I unconsciously picked up a lot of vague knowledge about art from the pop cultural mecca that is America’s favourite yellow family, and that I found out who Andy Warhol was via a Simpsons dream sequence where Warhol teases, “Soup’s on, fat boy!” while pegging his iconic Campbell’s cans at Homer standing in a barren, Dali-esque time warp.*

That was my first encounter with Warhol, and I’m glad it won’t be my last. The Art Gallery of NSW has brought huge global Pop art players such as Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana as well as homegrown legends such as Martin Sharp and Howard Arkley, to our shores with their truly excellent exhibition Pop to popism, running from now until March 2015.

For the #humblebrag, POMO, FOMO generation that I guess we are, Pop art might seem kind of dead, the glisten of its initial shock starting to wear off. After all, Andy Warhol’s Simpsons homage was back in 1999. Pop art definitely doesn’t twinkle with the same kind of glamour it once did while it was rippling the waters of social progress; for a generation that filters their best Marilyn-esque pouting selfies on instagram to unrecognisable oblivion, Pop is nothing new, even for people who don’t really dig art.

But by no means is Pop art irrelevant. Pop set a trend for total celebrity worship that pulses in our ears loudly, and 2014’s queen of celebrity is undoubtedly Kim Kardashian (haters, how dare you, and also to the  pls). Getting hitched, watching her bb compass stay strictly true North (West), and breaking the internet all while in the unflinching public eye, Kim Kardashian is 2014’s sassier and more interesting answer to Marilyn Monroe, and she never could have reached such fame without the principles of Pop backing her up.

Roy Lichtenstein. Look Mickey 1961. 

I’m sure Warhol would literally be rendered unable to deal with the ubiquity of celebrities in 2014. After all, it was he who famously said that in the future we’d all be famous for 15 minutes; nowadays a select few and their chic-as-sin offspring are all just famous for fucking ever. 

While Marylin Monroe could be relatively self-deprecating and shy about her status, celebrities like the Kardashians now flaunt and encourage their titles as self-defined deities. Kanye insists that he literally is a God – Yeezus, if you will – and even says, I am Warhol.”
Kim Kardashian is also beautifully unapologetic of her success, is ultra confident in the niche she has carved – my girl a superstar all from a home movie – and reminds everyone she is an entrepreneur to be reckoned with. You can’t help but think that Kim and Kanye do ‘Being A Celebrity’ better than Marylin, or Elvis, or anyone else in the height of Pop could have.

Pop said celebrity worship was okay, Kim and Kanye have welcomed that as their personal brand and, as if we don’t totally eat up the voyeurism it offers on the daily. I owe a lot to Pop because it allows me to shamelessly and hopelessly comment on Kim’s Instagram and say ‘I love you’ in a hapless emoji keyboard mash that I hope she, or maybe North, can understand.

Pop art has unintentionally allowed Kim Kardashian to flourish, because artists like Warhol ended up having portraits of gossip rag queens hanging alongside Delacroix and Da Vinci in the world’s biggest galleries, levelling the high-low art playing field with it. Pop confronted art and forced pop culture into the art world’s snooty and exclusive game. It refused to shame the enjoyment of mainstream culture, and it made art accessible by destroying the gates of pretension and elitism that imprisoned it – Pop was a gift, and Kim and Kanye and Bey and JAY and Tay are what we’ve gotten back. It’s made us truly #blessed.

Without Pop, mainstream culture probably wouldn’t get the place it is given today, and I’m sure Kim Kardashian could never have made a living off her and her sisters’ banal adventures without Pop laying the foundations of celebrating the mundane. Pop gently let us know that it’s okay to not a) give a fuck about and b) really know who Rembrandt and Raphael are, and if you straight up enjoy r/mildlyinteresting at its best as Khloe and Kim take on cities like royalty, then so be it, power to the people, live your life, etc.

We all know that there is no greater dick move than poking fun at people’s pop culture obsessions or looking down on their interests, as everyone with a friend who pretends to not care who Blue Ivy is [ ] has experienced. We aren’t always mulling over the French revolution, but man, we sure as hell do wonder about lunch, love and ciggie breaks on the regular. Why not be honest about what we enjoy in life and make it into art? 

Peter Powditch. The big towel 1969.

Which brings us to the biggest embodiment of this whole movement and its legacy: Kim and PAPER Magazine’s pretty successful bid to break the Internet with a pun-intended butt-load of grease and sass.

Kim’s cover is confident, it’s cheeky, and a lot of people rejected it in the same way Pop artists first struggled to be taken seriously. Then, seconds after it was released, an onslaught of copies by the way of the meme followed, much like the vibrant repetition Warhol often played with in his factory. There is such artfulness to KK’s shoot, and there is a twisted beauty in the cultivated images of celebrities and products that we are being fed daily.

Long live Kim; long live Pop.

Andy Warhol. Self-portrait no. 9 1986.

*It must be noted that this episode also delivered classic one-liners such as, “Le Grill? What the hell is that?” and “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” Love is real, you guys, and it looks like The Simpsons S10E19.

Great news: we have tickets for ‘Pop to popism’ to give away. If you’re interested in going and free things, simply email and tell us in 25 words or less anything you want. Absolutely anything.