Gideon Schwartzman
A Few Thin Things

POP! Patriotism

    Since its conception in the middle of the twentieth century, pop art has been operating in the periphery of conventional artistic approach. Criticized for their lack of authorship within their practice, pop artists typically exercised a posture of indifference (in relation towards subjectivity) within the works which they were producing.1 Often times engaging in mimicry and imitation, the pop genre demystified the role of the artist from a point of authorial narrative to a stance of common reception. Founded alongside the invention and mass domestication of the television, the artists associated with the movement embraced being part of a collective audience. From their seats in the bleachers, pop artists depicted the world not according to their own individual perceptions but rather through mediated message. The pops painted the world just as they were told to see it! 2

    While remaining apathetic, the pop indifference towards message created a new point of entry into the artistic disciplinary conversation. Even though their withdrawal from authorial narrative caused disdain amongst the midcentury artistic communities, the pop artists shifted the conversation from an interpretation of authorship to that of personal style. With their injection of the persona, the arts were attributed a new set of values emphasizing technique rather than content. The collection of work produced between the fifties and seventies operated as extensions of the artists; often times exhibiting characteristics of sarcasm, irony, and humor.3 Because of their nonchalant attitudes, the pop artists brought to the table a new role of authorship. A message which is collective in reception and circulation while being simultaneously individualistic in repeating stylistic production.

    This country is shaped by boxes. From the ballot box to get in office to gifts of a capitalistic society - there is little separation from the National Mall of Washington D.C. to those of America pumping out Aeropostale and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. This projects positions the symbolism of the box as a catalyst for a patriotic identity. A presidential library proposal for America’s pop, George Washington, this project borrows its scheme from a democratic palate. A reflection of John’s flag the project’s representational constraints are in red, white and blue dots and stripes.

    While Johns’ 1954 flag lays precedent in demeanor, it is his 1958 flag which serves as reference through form. In his three flag painting Johns introduces a topic of seriality. Repeating patriotic symbolism only attributed difference through a manipulation of scale. These flags are stacked, towered, and postured to form a patterned rhythm through layering. This removal of surface magnifies a larger pop ambition in aims of escaping the conventional artistic frame. One artist within the pop cohort who prompted this prison break is Swedish born Claes Oldenburg. With his series of oversized objects Oldenburg’s humor through irony magnified a resistance of rigid artistic boundaries through the affordance of autonomy to banal objects.

    These boxes are shaped by each other. Arranged as a series of autonomous spaces, these programmatic enclosures are contained and framed by their neighboring boxes. Stacked, layered, and perceivably unstable these formal parts must rely on each other to form an institutional whole. The box has been scaled to its proportional importance in democratic society. Scaled so that those who visit are engulfed by the presence of the presents.  

1. Moira Roth, “The Aesthetics of Indifference,” in Journal of Art and Art Education (London, UK: 1979), 4-12.
2. Peter Selz, “Pop Goes the Artist,” in Partisan Review (New York, NY: Summer 1963), 313-321.
3. Roland Barthes, “That Old Thing, Art…,” in Pop Art The Critical Dialogue (London, UK: 1989), 233-240.