After World War II, mass production and consumerism engulfed America into a new modern era. As the focus shifted to new products and consumerism, as well as new music, TV, movies, and Hollywood stars, so too did art emerge into a new modern movement. Culture and beliefs transformed into challenging conformity and art also took its stance as it shifted away from the themes of classical or fine art and pushed to have this new form of art be on the same higher level. Pop Art took the pop culture that surrounded this time period and created art that incorporated and critiqued the new growing society of consumer goods and media.
One artist in particular that reigned during this time was Andy Warhol. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Warhol was a prime example of Pop Art and its use of recognizable imagery and messages that engaged with popular culture. A particular work of his that originally caught my eye and which incorporates well-known media imagery as well as challenging themes is Warhol’s Electric Chair. I remember seeing and learning about this artwork years ago and I found both the use of medium and subject matter very interesting.
Pop Art commonly took popularly used images and media and frequently made a larger comment or reflection on society of the time. Based on a press photo from Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s execution (the couple executed in the early 50s for sharing information on the atomic bomb), the Electric Chair takes this grim imagery of an electric chair to make a statement about harsh images that are repeated in the media and how that affects people. The method of screen printing used by Warhol allows one to continually reproduce the same image over and over again just as other media, pop culture, and consumerism is repeated. Within the realm of Pop Art, Andy Warhol uses a repeated image that people would have seen or been familiar with and comments on how the mass media, by reproducing images so many times, has effectively desensitized society. One can repeatedly see images such as an electric chair or other gruesome or harsh images, which Warhol included in other works in his Death and Disaster series, and over time no longer be as affected by them. Ultimately Warhol uses pop culture and Pop Art to form a message to draw people back into the actual events of what is happening in some of these images that are reproduced and repeatedly seen by the public.
I think this is a very interesting way of creating and using art at this time. Pop Art is not just all about showing what pop culture consisted of during the time, but what effect it also had on society. If you are interested in seeing many other works by Warhol and if you haven’t been already, there is the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve had the pleasure of going there before and I would highly recommend you go if you get the chance. It’s a fantastic experience to see so many of his works and to get to know the artist better.