"Pop Art", a major movement in painting which began in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and then really took off in the United States, especially in New York, has left its mark on several generations of artists, as it saw the spectacular return to favour of figurative drawing and painting, in contrast to the abstract expressionism which was dominant at the time, and by reintroducing the object into the work, in a neo-Dadaist spirit. This is art which is popular, transient, consumable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, sexy, witty, glamorous, as Andy Warhol defined it, and it uses subjects borrowed straight from popular culture and put across by cartoons, advertising, magazines, cinema, television, etc.
By thus creating "images of images", Pop Art highlighted the hold that the communications media have on the collective imagination and the links between art, advertising, fashion and money. At the same time, it offered artists a new freedom, and they explored new technical and visual media which had emerged from the world of advertising and of the media, with photographic and serigraphic transfers, bright colours, smooth painting with clear outlines, changes of scale and serial repetitions of images.
By the yardstick of the 21st century, the influence of Pop Art is universal and multifaceted, expressing itself through its heritage which is both intellectual - linked to concepts of mass consumption and of the impact of the image - and visual, with a highly identifiable iconography, which makes equal use of trivial everyday objects, celebrities from the show business, and news items, etc.
Jeff Koons is the "spiritual son" of this movement, which he decodes through a "post-Duchampian" attitude, which rejects all taboos about the relationship between fine arts and popular culture, basing his works on familiar objects and playful imagery. The Monkey Train (2007) which will be exhibited for the first time are new lithographs (edition of 40) created using imagery taken from the Popeye series.
In their timeless approach McDermott & McGough use the aesthetic and pictorial codes of a period for their own ends, immersing us in it once again. In their latest paintings, they juxtapose black and white photographs, coloured cartoons and dummy TV screens so that, in their own way, they decry the foibles and misfortunes hidden by the smooth, icy world of the American way of life as depicted by American advertisements and magazines of the 1960s.
David Mach was born in Scotland in 1956 and he too also is a worthy heir of "Pop Art", although from a standpoint which is more British than American. His initial approach is indeed to decry over-production in our contemporary economy by using left-over everyday objects to make his sculptures; here, Pepsi bottles make up the installation So long and thanks for all the fishes (1985). Nowadays it is the iconic figures of our contemporary society which are the subjects of his latest matchheads, such as Lenin, Elvis, Barbie, etc. His lively, contrasting palette adds to the "out-of-step" aspect of his works, as do their titles which are full of humour; here we find ourselves in the midst of a pop culture mingled with the legendary British eccentricity!
Benjamin Sabatier is younger than all these artists and has created a whole body of work based upon the transposition into art of the current economic systems of consumption, production and distribution. Today, after the Peintures en kit (Paintings in kit form) made up of drawing pins, the Bacs (Trays) made of ice trays filled with crumpled magazine paper, in the same spirit as the Colonnes (Columns) made out of wood and mail order catalogues, he delivers his latest pieces, IBK Scotch Towers (2008), a series of multicoloured totems made by stacking up rolls of adhesive tape.
Alongside these visual artists whose creative works may thus arise out of a pop attitude, the photographers will be showing us an influence which comes essentially from a pop aesthetic with clearly defined pictorial codes.
In their early days in the mid 1970s, it was Pop imagery specifically which inspired Pierre and Gilles, because this was the imagery of their world, linked to entertainment and to the world of the night, to advertising and magazines, to the fields of both art and fashion. Their first creations together, such as Ruth et les bigoudis (Ruth and the curlers, 1982), or their first self-portrait, Perversion (1977), thus portraying characters from these worlds against highly graphic backgrounds with bright, bold colours, onto which the image of the model is "affixed", without being put into perspective.
In addition to these historic works, La rage de vaincre (Eager to win - 2005) will help us to grasp this influence of "Pop Art" on a part of their creative work. This nowadays expresses itself first and foremost through a pop symbolism, in certain works only, with a palette of colours which are still very bright and contrasting, "glamorous" decorative artifices, and through the choice of subjects (here in reference to the cinema and to manga comics, a samurai as a contemporary superhero) and models, because, as with Warhol, their work has always placed celebrities and ordinary people on an equal footing.
Valérie Belin, whose photographic approach was, until recently, based upon the portrayal of the object, has always chosen the subjects of her series, especially the objects, because they were photogenic, so they were chosen both for their light imprints and for their pictorial "potential", which she expresses both by enlarging the object and by using a very tight composition which isolates it from any context. This is the case with the robots to which she devoted a series in 1998. When she photographed packets of crisps in 2004, she was then interested in the object because of its evocative power... The chosen packagings have all an obvious visual value, with letterings and a graphic charter which are very remarkable and indeed, very "pop".
With Bettina Rheims, Pop Art is just one of her many sources of inspiration, in the same way as Pre-Raphaelite art or 19th century sculpture, etc. The French photographer's works always bear the imprint of an artistic influence, that of one or more movements or masters who left a mark on her apprenticeship in art. When she decided to deliver her own contemporary version of the Bible entitled INRI, Bettina Rheims referred to Pop and its colourful codes in order to update her subject; the triptych which will be exhibited, La Tentation de Jésus, avril 1997, Ville Evrard (The Temptation of Christ, April 1997, Ville Evrard), is certainly the most striking example of this.