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The infancy of Pop Art on show at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art

Exploring the early works of Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol and the young masters of Pop

As the Royal Academy’s Pop Art exhibition approaches the end of its international circuit, closing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on 24 January 1993, an important new study, more tightly focused and including only work created in the United States, opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, at the beginning of this month (6 December-7 March 1993). “Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition 1955-1962” has been organised by the museum’s chief curator, Paul Schimmel, and Donna De Salvo, formerly curator at the DIA Art Foundation and responsible for “Success is a Job in New York: the early art and business of Andy Warhol”. It will be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (3 April-20 June 1993) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (16 July-3 October 1993). The exhibition concentrates upon a critical seven-year period in the evolution of Pop Art and is part of Schimmel’s interest in the transitional stages of modern American art. It was preceded by “The Interpretive Link: Abstract Surrealism into Abstract Expressionism 1938-1948”, which he presented at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, where he was formerly chief curator, in 1986. The present exhibition features 165 works of art created in New York and California by twenty-one artists of a generation which had been schooled in the bold brushwork of Abstract Expressionism but was interested in exploring a new range of subjects drawn from daily experience and popular or commercial sources. The famous names of this generation include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg, James Rosenquist and Ed Ruscha, all of whom are prominently featured in Schimmel’s selection by works of art created at the beginning of their careers. Artists who may only be familiar to a West Coast audience but whose rehabilitation was launched by Norman Rosenthal at the Royal Academy are Billy Al Bengston, Mel Ramos and Wayne Thiebaud. The exhibition’s terminus is 1962. Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Warhol’s contribution, limited to those rare and beautiful canvases carefully painted by hand, is expected to form the most moving section of the exhibition. This scholarly scrutiny of these crucial years, encouraged by the exhibition and its catalogue (Rizzoli, 255pp. 200 ills. p/b $39.50), provides a useful balance to the sweeping survey of the Royal Academy.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The infancy of Pop Art'