Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples Online (2–16 March, Online) features several pieces of art memorabilia by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, two of the most famous exponents of the Pop movement.
Economic prosperity and a shift towards a Keynesian economic approach led to unprecedented wealth and the rise of consumerism in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. This new consumer culture inevitably resulted in the growth of the advertising and media sectors. Pop artists were fascinated with American consumerism. They appropriated everyday objects and imagery and employed the aesthetic vernacular of advertising. The repetitive nature of printmaking was well suited to Pop art. Screenprinting and offset lithography, commercial printing techniques, minimised the importance of the artist’s hand and alluded to the assembly-line manufacturing of coke bottles or soup cans. By elevating the mundane to the level of high art, these artists blurred the line between fine and commercial art.
With wit and deadpan detachment, the pop artists held a mirror to contemporary America, reflecting a world in which bigger was better and everything was a commodity.
1. Lichtenstein’s Turkey Shopping Bag
Pop artists became captivated by the supermarket, a repository of the spectacle of American consumerism. The American Supermarket was an exhibition organized by Ben Brillo and held at Bianchini Gallery in New York in 1964. The exhibition resembled a supermarket, where one could buy a can of Campbell’s soup signed by Warhol, enamelled hotdogs made by Lichtenstein or bronze ale cans by Jasper Johns. Roy Lichtenstein’s Turkey Shopping Bag and Andy Warhol’s Cambpell’s Soup Can (Tomato) were screenprinted directly onto paper shopping bags, many of which were signed by the artists, and were created in conjunction with the exhibition. While not part of the exhibition itself, the bags were sold or given away, allowing visitors to carry away their purchases. They worked as a functional poster of sorts as people could be seen all over Manhattan carrying them.
2. Warhol's S&H Green Stamps
While Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans are probably the artist’s most famous foray into the supermarket theme, another effective example is Andy Warhol’s S&H Green Stamps from 1965. Exemplifying the Warholian motifs of recognisable and repetitive imagery, S&H Green Stamps represents the now discontinued trading stamps distributed by the Sperry & Hutchinson Company. Customers would receive the stamps at the checkout of supermarkets or gas stations and could redeem them for products in a catalogue. The stamps are therefore very representative of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s middle class and consumer culture. The concept of fake money and the relationship between art and commerce were themes Warhol continued to explore throughout his career.
3. Warhol's Marilyn (Invitation)
Both Warhol and Lichtenstein created several prints throughout their careers specifically to coincide with gallery or museum exhibitions. Pop artists understood the power and importance of publicity, name recognition and promotion. Offset lithographs of recognisable images, some signed, others not, were created as mailers and giveaways, sent to current or prospective clients, or given out at parties or during exhibitions. Andy Warhol’s Marilyn (Invitation) is one such example. A neon Marilyn Monroe was used as an invitation to a print retrospective at Castelli Graphics from 21 November–22 December 1981.
4. Warhol's Joseph Beuys T-Shirt
As with the shopping bag, both Lichtenstein and Warhol experimented with using surfaces other than paper for their prints. Warhol famously announced his “retirement” from painting in 1966, and decorated the walls of his “retirement” exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery with screenprinted wallpaper, turning the entire room into a work of art. Other objects used by the artists include wrapping paper, paper plates, ceramic plates, flags, silk, dresses and T-Shirts, such as this signed tee, screenprinted with images of Joseph Beuys. Thus, Warhol and Lichtenstein not only appropriated everyday objects into their imagery, but they also used them as mediums that connected art and life.
Lead Image: Warhol poses before his Cows wallpaper at the Leo Castelli Gallery, April 1, 1966. Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.