One thing 15 Bytes editor Shawn Rossiter neglected to mention in his recent and invaluable introduction to the medium of silkscreen was that the highest price ever paid for a 20th-century “painting” — $195 million paid in May for Andy Warhol’s “Shot Blue Marilyn” — was actually paid for a silkscreen print. It doesn’t help that the media insist on labeling it a painting, presumably out of a conviction that prints are inferior and less expensive works of art, or even copies. Of course the “Shot Marilyn” series are not copies, they are originals, and part of Rossiter’s purpose was to show that the print medium can produce works equal in every way to paintings. That said, however, the value of this work has more to do with the fact that it was made in 1964, two years after the iconic actresses premature death, at the very beginning of public awareness of Pop Art.
None of Warhol’s works from that time, like his once-controversial Campbell’s soup cans, can be found in Todd Marshall’s Urban Pop exhibition, currently at Bountiful Davis Art Center, for reasons that should be apparent. Neither are some more accessible works, such as the soft sculptures of international celebrity and Salt Lake City resident and muralist Jann Haworth. Yet there are some almost equally familiar landmarks, such as Jasper Johns “Target with Faces,” though it appears not in the encaustic and bas-relief original, but in a poster the artist made later for his friend, the great choreographer Merce Cunningham.
Like many things that were shoehorned into the period known universally as the ’60s — as in “If you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there” — which actually began in the ’50s and continued through the ’70s, Pop art was many different things. In fact, in comparison to the rigorous achievements of the Abstract Expressionists, each of whom is known primarily for a single trope — like the drips of Jackson Pollock, the Zips of Barnett Newman, and the color veils of Mark Rothko, most if not all Pop artists are known for a generous range of media and subjects. Furthermore, as Marshall intends his show to prove, Pop art is still going strong as it enters its seventh decade, though its pure form may have evolved in large part to street art, a grown-up version of graffiti, which has been around since well before the Romans and will surely never die.
An artist who epitomizes the way Pop and graffiti came together to energize street art is Keith Haring, who appears here in a curious acrylic-on-canvas painting, “Keith’s wave from heaven,” by Laurence de Valmy. Seen wearing one of his signature t-shirts and showing off the black paint with which he created his signature outline style, which is visible on the mural behind him, Haring is accompanied by digital texts and emojis celebrating, among other things, a huge mural, titled “Tuttomondo” (“All the world”) which he completed in Pisa. Haring’s imagery owes much to cartoons, which also provided Roy Lichtenstein his raw material, but his handling of the figures derives from graffiti, while the resulting hybrid appeared in public in countless varieties, like clothing, stencils, stickers, and of course murals. Among his cleverest ideas was to paint his nude body with black lines and stand next to a nude Black man painted in the same style, but using white paint. With his powerful campaigns against crack cocaine and the spread of AIDS, Haring may be the only man who approaches the worldwide recognition and stature of Muhammad Ali. If women were given the chances these men capitalized on, think what a better world this could be.
It should surprise no one that some of these demotic art works assume less consumer-friendly forms. Nicolas Maximillion Jimenez’s “Where the Wild Things Die” fails to make clear its connection to the most popular children’s author, Maurice Sendak. The uncredited sculpture “Conundrum” presents an ominous assemblage of two monkeys contemplating the broken figure of a nude woman. It may say something about the speed with which gender issues are changing for the better that 17 years later, this 2005 object seems thoughtless. A similar window into how fast things are changing, Lori Nelson’s surreal “You can lake the girl out of Utah,” painted a year later, features a brimming Great Salt Lake reflecting tree-like clouds that grow out of her temples. The power of the lake, meanwhile is fast giving way to the impact of the drought.
There are too many works here to find a pattern, which in any event may not be possible in any period extending over so many years, let alone a time of so much social change. Much of the work is charming, funny, even when it makes a serious point. Bijan Bahar’s transparent chair seems to predict a future of personal objects that won’t be in the way when not in use. “Billions Served,” by an artist called Denial, holsters a surprisingly menacing pistol in a familiar French-fried potato sleeve. John Bell’s “In Bloom” saves its comment for the title card, where its medium is identified as “the world’s blackest paint.” It may be time to remember that “Pop” doesn’t just imply popular; it’s also the sound of something exploding.
Urban Pop, curated by Todd Marshall, Bountiful Davis Art Center, Bountiful, through Sep. 10