There may be no other place in the world with as deep a connection with the Pop Art movement and aesthetic that emerged in the 1950s, than New York City. Iconoclastic painters and sculptors of the period, like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns (who lived together in New York for many years), took their cues not from the Old Masters, but from familiar iconography, popular culture, folk art, and the innovations of the Dadaists, to create idiosyncratic works that were revolutionary in technique and subject matter, and instrumental in setting the stage for American Pop Art to emerge.
In the 60s, Andy Warhol took what he had learned from his tour of duty as an illustrator and New York advertising grunt, and explored repetition to push the art form to new levels of irony and abstraction, while Roy Lichtenstein‘s blown up and recontextualized comic book panels (many of which were directly and openly copied from the work of well-known comic book artists, without credit) diminished the role of the artist and elevated the comic form to the level of high art in one stroke. Warhol and Lichtenstein’s work frequently incited controversy, with some critics wondering aloud if it was art at all. But this line of criticism was nothing new; and Pop Art was at its best when it was at its most subversive.
In Pop Art, facets of popular culture that may appear disparate are often combined in satirical or absurd ways. This self-aware and self-referential new art form invoked popular themes, but placed them in a new context. The characteristic mix of unrelated but familiar elements lends a certain poetic quality to much of the Pop Art from this period, and its preoccupation with process and mass production seems to echo the atmosphere in New York and the world, then and now.
By the 1980s, Pop Art’s influence was apparent throughout the contemporary art community, and in the wider world, as well. New York-based street artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring took the pop art aesthetic in new directions and artists from around the world continued to explore Pop to create powerful works of art. New York remains a destination for connoisseurs of Pop Art, and Pop hounds can find the works of their favorite artists in museums, galleries, community spaces, and on walls throughout the city. Here are a few of the best places to see Pop Art in New York City.
The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Brooklynites should start at the Brooklyn Museum. The Museum houses a large selection of artwork from around the world, and is committed to the continued development of contemporary art. The Pop Art-inspired works of the Brooklyn-based artist KAWS will be on display through March 27, and you can also see art by Pop luminaries like James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns.
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014
Once you’ve gotten your fill at the New Museum, you can hop on the F train or walk to The Whitney Museum of American Art, which recently moved to a stunning new location in the Meatpacking District, near the Highline. There you will find the colorful and childlike paintings of Jim Dine, as well as a large selection of pieces by Andy Warhol.
The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Diehard Warholics should definitely hop back on the F uptown (or grab an Uber), and check out The Morgan’s enlightening exploration of Warhol’s early life as a book illustrator, on view through May 15th.
The Museum of Modern Art
11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
The Museum of Modern Art houses one of the world’s premier collections of Modern Art and is a short train ride or about a 30 minute walk away from The Morgan. Currently on view are well-known works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and a host of other Pop Art icons.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the best places to view fine art in the world, and for good reason. The collection of art in the Met is scarcely rivaled by any other. The museum’s exhibits showcase the full spectrum of art from cultures around the world, and lovers of Pop will find a wealth of treasures behind this museum’s walls, including the works of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, a wife and husband team who were pivotal figures in the Pop Art movement.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128
The world-famous Guggenheim Museum is located just a short walk away from The Met. In addition to its permanent collection, which includes paintings by Tom Wesselmann and Keith Haring, among others, the museum is currently showcasing the avant-pop works of Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The building, designed by visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is a work of art in and of itself.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and any intrepid soul who is actually crazy enough to undertake this journey will soon notice that Pop Art is practically popping out of the city’s pores. Its irony and subversion have in many cases been commandeered by the advertising gods who gave birth to its aesthetic in the first place, but Pop has always straddled the fence between creativity and commerce, the sacred and the profane. In the words of the late, great Andy Warhol, “Everything is beautiful. Pop is everything”.