Think of 1990s pastimes like downscaling, Disney-bashing and couch potato tisk-tisking. Then consider the ubiquity of storage lockers (for all our consumer crap), unashamed annual pilgrimages to Orlando (for the kids) and...well, you know you never eat a meal without the soothing ambience that Judge Judy provides.
But this hypocritical wrangling is nothing new. The 1960s experienced a similar, if more intense, backlash to the explosion of postwar commerce and popular culture -- and it spawned the artistic movement called Pop.
From Thursday, September 7 through December 31, the Milwaukee Art Museum hosts a sampling of some of the best Pop works made in "Pop Impact! From Johns to Warhol," an exhibition of about 40 works from the collection of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. The traveling show is supplemented in Milwaukee by some fine examples of Pop pieces in MAM's own collection, along with a flurry of pop-ish activities.
Pop artists usurped the trappings of crass consumerism, slick advertising and automated processes of mass production. If the public didn't see the error of its ways, the artists would make their works on a billboard scale so it couldn't be ignored. If the critics didn't buy all this clever self-mocking, it was OK. The artists were too cool to care.
"Pop Impact!" traces the historical and thematic development within the American Pop movement, with works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who bridged the gap from Abstract Expressionism, to Ed Ruscha, Claes Oldenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol, to work on the fringes of the movement such as Marisol's enigmatic wooden figures and George Segal's plaster people.
Some pieces of note:
--Jim Dine was one of the first Pop artists to incorporate everyday household objects into his art. In "A Black Shovel #2" (1962), he simultaneously questions a common object's everyday meaning and the personal meaning, because his grandfather owned a hardware business.
--Claes Oldenberg's "honey-I-shrunk-the-kids" pieces, including a 12-foot high ice bag created in 1971, inside which giant cubes shift and move as they melt.
--Jasper Johns' "Studio" (1964), which gives us glimpses into that highly personal sanctum of an artist, his studio.
--Robert Indiana's chromed sculpture LOVE (1968), featuring the 'L' and the 'O' stacked on top of 'V' and 'E', and became one of the most recognizable icons of the '60s. For him it was personal exploration of the phrase "God is Love."
Only in Milwaukee is a showing of Indiana's largest painting, the iconic basketball floor for what was then the MECCA arena. Created in 1977 to accommodate the NBA's new three-point shot rule, it was the first time a recognized artist's work was ever applied to a playing surface. In the world of basketball and televised Bucks and Marquette Warriors' games, the work put Milwaukee on the map of cool. MAM will have only part of it on view because of space limitations.
--Wayne Thiebaud questions notions of conformity and repetition in paintings such as "Pie Counter" (1963) with its neat rows of cakes and pies that conjure post-war ticky-tacky housing developments.
--And of course, Andy Warhol's cans of tomato soup from 1968. Because soup IS good food.
Some of the more interesting events:
--Oct. 6-15; Three vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles -- icons of the '60s -- will be displayed: the Captain America and Billy Bike from the film "Easy Rider," and the Electra Glide bike, grooved-up by its owner in 1973 with rhinestones (applied by a Ronco device, no doubt) and hundreds of flashing lights.
--Oct. 11; 6:15 p.m. Callie Angell, of the Andy Warhol Film Project, will discuss the group's effort to preserve, catalog and release Warhol's wacky films. Several films will be shown at the art museum during the exhibition.
--Sat., Oct. 14; 2 p.m. Harley-Davidson motorcycle culture and the true story of the making of the film, "Electra Glide in Blue," will be discussed by Martin Jack Rosenblum, Harley historian. Afterword, watch the classic film starring Robert Blake, who plays a motorcycle patrolman John Wintergreen. With his partner Zipper, they police the Arizona highways on their Harley-Davidson Electra Glides. Wintergreen, a Vietnam veteran, is torn between his sympathy for the hippie culture and his role as a law enforcement official.
--Nov. 9; 6:15 p.m. National Public Radio's film critic Elvis Mitchell will discuss the impact of events and films of the 1960s.