GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts
THE Royal Academy's controversial exhibition secretary Norman Rosenthal says that Pop Art is "the most popular art movement since impressionism" and sales at the RA's Pop Art exhibition shop look set to confirm this claim.
Andy Warhol blouses have already sold out and visitors are buying up Marilyn Monroe kiss stampers, soup can postcards, Pop Art diaries and even diced cakes based on Richard Hamilton's Epiphany.
Pop Art artists and the original enthusiasts are now aged at least 50 and the movement has become respectable enough to be sponsored by The Independent. But the show also bears the logo of Mercury Communications which looks to the next century. Twenty year olds find Pop Art fresh and exciting which makes it natural to have Radio One as the exhibition's "official radio station" occasionally broadcasting from the gallery.
The most extraordinary aspect of the exhibition is the feeling of being at a 1990s event rather than just a nostalgic trip back to the 1960s. Although there is a predominance of American work the term Pop Art originated here. Indeed the movement was probably started by the under represented Peter Blake before the 1960s when he produced his first version of the painting Children Reading Comics featuring The Eagle. That was completed as early as 1954 and before the exhibition's example which was less influential and is less easy to understand.
The exhibition is fun with its giant toothpaste tube and fake ice creams. Mercury has even placed a nine foot telephone handset in the entrance where the stairs have been covered by a David Hockney carpet.
But there is a discernible feeling of male domination which would be unacceptable today. All but one of the 60 artists are male. The heroes such as John F Kennedy are male. The female images of Marilyn Monroe and the Firestone Tyre girl are sex objects. Allen Jones' table comprising of a female figure on all fours with a perspex sheet on her back was already being condemned as sexist when shown at the ICA gallery in the 1980s.
It was fashionable in the 1960s to ignore religion so Patrick Caulfield's painting Christ at Emmaus, although rather flat and impersonal, comes as a surprise. But he has often rejected the Pop Art label along with Hockney who has three paintings looking rather out of place. Roy Lichtenstein's Rouen Cathedral II (seen at three different times of the day) has more to do with making the point about succeeding Impressionism.
At the end of the show you have to turn your back on Warhol's huge Mao and walk towards his equally large Virgin and Child (Raphael I -$6.99) produced just before his recent death. In this last decade communism is on the decline and Christianity and its symbolism is again evident.
Just before this climax is an easily missed doorway leading into the Radio One room containing a giant radio in the form of a half opened chocolate bar.
On headphones can be heard the DJs of the 1960s including Mike Raven. He is now known as the artist Churton Fairman and will be exhibiting his Christian inspired sculpture at Bloomsbury gallery early next spring.