Saleroom Demand Shows The ‘Popular’ In Pop Art

Saleroom Demand Shows The ‘Popular’ In Pop Art

01/01/2023     General News

Perhaps the best-known pop artist, Andy Warhol, is well known for his pithy quote that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  He was commenting on the ephemeral nature of celebrity, but little could he have know that more than half a century later, the movement which he was instrumental in starting would itself be enjoying its period in the spotlight – a period which is lasting considerably longer than a quarter of an hour.

Pop art – short for ‘popular art’ – emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a kickback against traditional culture.  In a decade in which counter-culture became mainstream artists such as Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Peter Blake (responsible for the sleeve design for the Beatle’s album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) managed to detach art from the traditional boundaries of class and convention, embracing new genres such as screen-printing and graffiti, and combining them with fine art techniques.

Increasingly, new, young artists felt that the things they saw in galleries and museums, and what they were taught at art school, didn’t resonate with their own lives and the things they saw around them.  Instead, they turned for inspiration to things from day-to-day life and popular culture, ranging from advertising and product packaging to Hollywood movies and pop music.

In turn, the new movement was hugely influential, not just on the visual arts, but on music, fashion and cinema.  It empowered creators in all of these areas to challenge the status quo, blend high culture with street art, and create works which were more accessible – they had a wider popular appeal, hence the pop art moniker.

Celebrity was an important part of all this.  Works such as Warhol’s iconic Marilyn Monroe pictures celebrated popular figures, and the artists themselves became celebrities in a way which had not really happened before.  Pop art also saw famous people from outside the visual art world get involved; for example, bob Dylan is almost as well known no was an artist as he is a musician.

Often highly popular cultural movements burn out quickly and are soon forgotten, but pop art has remained surprisingly durable.  It had a huge influence on the more recent conceptual art movement – it is not beyond reason to label people such as Tracey Emin pop artists.

In the saleroom, pop art has not been as sought-after since its early days in the 1960s.  Specialist pop art and popular culture sales are attracting new buyers to auctions, often younger than the average saleroom crowd, and with a much greater proportion of people buying for themselves as individuals, rather than dealers and other professionals. 

This is highly appropriate, because it marks a continuing democratisation of the antiques and art world, something which pop art’s founders would have said was their main goal.  Ironically, given its counter-culture origins, pop art was one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century, and remains hugely relevant and collectable today.

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