Written By: Jennifer Smith
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Exactly 50 years ago today, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans debuted at the Ferus Gallery of Los Angeles, California. The show introduced the burgeoning Pop art scene to the West Coast and marked Warhol’s first one-man gallery exhibition.
Warhol’s influence would ultimately transform New York City into a Pop art epicenter, cementing his status as the movement’s leading figure. The rest, from Warhol’s machine-like output to his decidedly non-painterly use of screen printing and vibrant depictions of celebrities in 20th century mass culture, is art history.
Jeff Jaffe founded New York City’s Pop International Galleries in 1997. Today, “The Pop Gallery” continues the Pop art tradition with the more recent inclusion of street art or “urban art” alongside decades of art and photography inspired by pop culture.
Jeff Jaffe sat down with BTR for a conversation about Warhol’s illustrious career and how his work continues to inspire modern- day artists.
BreakThru Radio: Well, I guess we should try to define “Pop art” …
Jeff Jaffe: Well, Pop art actually is a broad term that historians began to use when defining art that was influenced by the power of popular culture. Pop art actually really started, most people don’t know this, in the UK in the late 1950s. It became fundamentally an American phenomenon in the early 60s when Andy Warhol picked up the whole concept of Brillo™ boxes and soup cans … but the early roots of Pop art lie in England, interestingly enough.
One of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Cans 1968 screenprint. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
BTR: So what’s New York City’s role in Pop art?
JJ: Well, I think New York City became, in a way, the mecca as Andy Warhol began to take a serious hold on the movement. I don’t think Andy Warhol really coined the word “Pop art” for himself, but the critics did and collectors did. It became a catchphrase for this type of work that began to emanate in New York City in the 1960s. Andy Warhol particularly, who twigged onto the idea of using the silkscreen as a medium, began to have a very profound influence and impact on artists working around him at the time.
The silkscreen medium was a commercial medium. It was used for making wallpaper, bed sheets, linens, table clothes … He elevated it somehow, but ironically had the interest of taking a very commercial medium and creating very commercial images.
BTR: Was there any push back in the art community?
JJ: I think he received an incredible amount of push back. I think people thought he was a fake and a fraud. Andy Warhol defined himself as not being an artist. He said, “I’m not an artist. I’m a machine.” And that’s very provocative if you really think about it.
BTR: So do you think he was definitely purposeful in what he was trying to convey?
JJ: I believe that. There are many writers, critics, dealers, collectors who don’t think he was purposeful. I think he was.
Andy Warhol was a brilliant, brilliant marketer and a brilliant, brilliant perceiver of popular culture. He turned something out back into the world that, in its own way, became popular culture. And that’s the irony of Andy Warhol.
BTR: What do you think artists today can learn from Andy Warhol?
JJ: For me, that is the big question in terms of what we do here at Pop International because we represent younger artists or artists coming up in the world who are also profoundly interested in or influenced by popular culture. We call it the “neo-Pop” movement or the “post-Pop” movement. There’s any number of words to describe what younger artists are doing, whether they’re either influenced by Andy Warhol or just genuinely influenced by what’s going on in the world today.
I think there isn’t a contemporary artist working today who cannot in some way be influenced by Andy Warhol, mostly in terms of marketing and publicity. Andy Warhol was obviously a genius. He was a master publicist. The old phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” held completely true for him.
I think younger artists interested in pop culture, such as the people we represent, can learn a tremendous amount from him … without mimicking him. Without making your artwork look like Andy Warhol, you can still be making very relevant, popular culturally derived art that makes sense to people today.
Untitled acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
BTR: I was looking at your website, and I noticed you had an exhibition of graffiti, street-style art. How does Pop art and street art relate?
JJ: In all the years that I’ve been an art dealer, which is now some 25 years and change, I don’t think there has been an art movement, a real movement, since the Pop movement … other than what’s going on today in the street art world or the urban art world. I think that street artists, graffiti artists, urban artists, whatever you want to call them, have now begun to encapsulate something that’s very real and universal in the world. Street art exists everywhere. There’s bad street art. There’s lousy graffiti, but somewhere between all of that are absolutely beautiful, brilliant artists working in the world.
I believe it’s very much the art of the day … the art that’s influenced by popular culture.
For more of our conversation with Jeff Jaffe, check out this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly airing this Thursday.