A “Culture of Hyperbole,” indeed!
It is called, “Pop Art,” but few dare ask, “whose Pop culture does it represent?” Not all popular culture is inherently banal so why does so much of alleged Pop Art seem so intent on reification of banality? Could it be that the elite aesthetic arbiters actually perceive the proletariat as banal and that this alleged celebration of the banal is in fact simply an elitist condescension? They certainly seem oblivious to the evident racist and classist subtext inherent in their aesthetic premise.
To selectively borrow from popular culture in such a way as to rob that culture of the sincerity of its sentiments, the nobility of its virtues or the heroism of its aspirations does not constitute a bonafide celebration or even an elevation at all. Rather, Pop Art as typically presented by the high art establishment, amounts to little more than a colonialization of a culture of which one is not an initiate in an effort to highlight what is perceived as its most “primitive, alien and infantilized” aspects so that its alleged vices rather than its inherent virtues occupy center stage.
We have been down this road before and we known exactly whose interests are served by such context. This same class of cultural arbiters initially excluded the aesthetic production of non-Western societies from consideration in the fine art canon. Such art was relegated to anthropology museums whose raison d’être was to justify the underlying racist and ethnocentric presumptions inherent in these colonialist societies. When the non-Western art was finally allowed admittance to the sanctuaries of the fine art museums, it was only so that its imagery, but not its substance, could be appropriated as a rationalization for the colonialists’ own decadence. Removed from its original authentic cultural context, appropriated to serve a purpose for which it was never intended by its creators, then allegedly reified by its ultimate “inclusion” in the sanctuary, non-Western art was finally allowed to be celebrated because of its new found affiliation with the White power structure of the colonialists. For this self serving agenda, the same colonialists then assumed the mantel of cosmopolitanism and sought prophylaxis from charges of racism because they finally conceded to appropriating another culture’s artworks to serve their own agendas to establish and maintain their own socioeconomic and political power.
For the 1%’ers, the proletariat are the primitives, to be dominated, colonized and ruled. Popular culture is to be mined for its most undesirable characteristics so that it might be mocked and appropriated simultaneously. As was the case with colonialist appropriation a century ago, this is done to rationalize the decadence and banality of the contemporary high art of the establishment by granting it the license to be as banal and infantile as it erroneously perceives the Other to be.
But unlike the case of non-Western art, the unmediated artworks of authentic popular culture have yet to be accessioned by most elite fine art museums. Evidently, unless popular imagery is filtered through the meditation of the establishment elite’s anointed “fine” artists, then it is deemed unworthy of serious consideration.
Where are the exhibitions of the original Elzie Crisler Segar comic strip artwork or the animation cells created by Max and Dave Fleischer‘s Fleischer Studios who produced the original Popeye animated cartoons which were allegedly Jeff Koons’ muse? Where are the original war comics featuring artwork by Jerry Grandenetti which Lichtenstein stole for his own purposes? Where are the originals of the ubiquitous CocaCola and Campbell’s soup advertisements that have become associated with Warhol as much as their original brands? You won’t find them on exhibit at MoMA or the Met. Instead, these authentically populist artworks will, for the foreseeable future, undoubtedly be relegated to more heretical sanctuaries like the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. George Lucas has been marginalized by the establishment for his role as an unapologetic populist and his proposed new museum will undoubtedly be met with predictable derision and scorn from this same elitist aesthetic establishment that is so eager to reify the banality of artworks so long as that banality is mediated through a member of its sanctified priesthood, like Jeff Koons.
Alas, it is not necessarily popular culture that is so inherently banal. Rather, it is the cynical affectation of infantilism by the clergy of the high art establishment that has devolved past being genuinely offensive to being merely boringly banal and hence utterly irrelevant as an authentic expression of culture, either high or low.