Deborah Solomon had a broad book review in the New York Times that spanned James Rosenquist to Andy Warhol in an attempt to cover the books and say something interesting about Pop art which has been on a multi-year tear both critically and on the art market. As the genre reaches a new position in art history, Solomon’s take is both witty and insightful:
“F-111” (1964-65), is an epic, multi-panel painting in which the sleek fuselage of a fighter bomber nose-dives into disparate images of an angel food cake, a Firestone tire and a mound of canned-style spaghetti. For all its jokey references, the painting is a powerful deconstruction of the American dream, questioning the connection between affluence and war. It ought to be obvious by now that there is more creative heat in Rosenquist’s “F-111” than in countless Abstract Expressionist paintings that were hyped in their time as marvels of raw emotion, if only because they offered improvised-looking drips and splashes in place of the patient description of the real world. […]
Pop Art, in the meantime, continues to offer up new meaning to a new generation. What originally was interpreted as an Ab Ex backlash — a process of subtraction and extraction that took the drip out of art, the tactility out of art and even, according to Danto, the artistry out of art — now seems more like a knowing wink at the American future. Why does Pop Art continue to speak to us so forcefully?
It is probably relevant that in July 1959, the so-called kitchen debate was held between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon. Staged in Moscow, in a faux suburban house constructed expressly for the occasion, the encounter offered Vice President Nixon the chance to demonstrate the everyday comforts and conveniences of American life, from Pepsi-Cola and Betty Crocker cake mixes to Cadillacs and G.E. dishwashers. The debate was seen around the world and redefined America virtually overnight as a consumerist utopia where the goods you stored in your kitchen cabinets were as much a symbol of cherished values as the bald eagle and the flag.
The celebration of the kitchen as the locus of the American dream spilled over into Pop Art, especially in its early years, when artists appropriated images of soda pop and soup cans as well as a general just-mopped, mess-free look evocative of the suburbs. Rosenquist’s paintings, with their fragmentary views of faces and merchandise filling ever-larger spaces, at times can put you in mind of shopping malls, and it may be meaningful that he grew up in the state (Minnesota) where the first-ever enclosed mall opened, in 1956. The story of America since then is, among other things, the story of how postwar affluence and the belief in luxury for every citizen gave way to a style of spending that kept expanding until a time close to the present, when the money finally ran out and people lost homes, jobs and their confidence in the future. The Pop artists were prophetic because they saw a new kind of America coming, a country where you are what you buy.
The Pop Art Era (New York Times)