MES­SAGES AND THE MEDIUM

The Weekend Australian - Review - - VISUAL ARTS - Christo­pher Allen

Pop to Popism Art Gallery of NSW, Syd­ney, to March 1

APRE­VIEW ar­ti­cle for this ex­hi­bi­tion in another news­pa­per took the line that a show about pop was bound to be fun. No doubt the au­thor was try­ing to be up­beat, given the poor pub­lic­ity the Art Gallery of NSW has at­tracted re­cently, and the fact the ar­ti­cle would go on to re­call dis­ap­point­ing at­ten­dances for the Amer­ica ex­hi­bi­tion last sum­mer.

But it was nonethe­less an ex­am­ple of the way we so of­ten evac­u­ate the mean­ing of art and turn it into an ob­ject with su­per­fi­cial stylis­tic and dec­o­ra­tive prop­er­ties. Thus a baroque al­tar­piece can be re­duced to a sump­tu­ous piece of in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion and an os­ten­si­bly po­lit­i­cal work of con­tem­po­rary art can be­come the hip moral al­ibi of an in­vest­ment banker.

Ad­mit­tedly, pop artists were not in­no­cent of th­ese ten­den­cies to su­per­fi­cial­ity, cyn­i­cism and even ex­ploita­tion. But one still has to as­sume any art move­ment has a core of authenticity — that the cen­tral rea­son artists make the things they do is they feel them to be in some sense a true, per­haps even ur­gent, im­age of con­tem­po­rary ex­pe­ri­ence.

One im­por­tant role of artists is cer­tainly to give voice to the emerg­ing but still only semi­con­scious feel­ings, hopes and fears of the com­mu­nity to which they be­long. This is why, when they are suc­cess­ful, their au­di­ence recog­nises, with sur­prise, de­light or some­times even dis­may, things it had dimly felt but had never been able to ar­tic­u­late. In this sense the sur­prise of Giotto’s con­tem­po­raries at dis­cov­er­ing a world of solid vol­umes, which spoke to them of their own new at­ti­tude to life, is di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble with that of Warhol’s view­ers, dis­cov­er­ing they lived in an en­vi­ron­ment of mass-pro­duced com­modi­ties like soup cans.

And yet nei­ther au­di­ence nor even artist may fully un­der­stand what th­ese things mean, be­cause the au­di­ence is still sub­merged in the ex­pe­ri­ence, and be­cause the artis­tic ar­ticu-

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