Andy Warhol’s “Troy Diptych” typifies his interest in celebrity culture. The silkscreen image shows repeated headshots of Troy Donahue, an American actor and singer: one canvas of multicolored headshots is paired with black-and-white ones on a larger canvas. The repetition causes Donahue to lose his charm as a pop star; the image becomes banal, and viewers cannot see past the flat surface of the painting.
This piece is at the essence of “The Street, the Store, and the Silver Screen: Pop Art from the MCA Collection,” an exhibition that highlights the MCA’s Pop collection with some surprising expansions of the category. “Troy Diptych” is a nod to mass production and America’s burgeoning consumer culture, which is underscored by Donahue’s repeated image. More still, this celebrity icon displaces the religious connotations associated with the traditional diptych format.
Pop artists took inspiration from everyday life, consumer goods and popular culture, and often used bold colors and commercial techniques to produce their work. This small but compelling show addresses these qualities. Unsurprisingly, consumerism radiates throughout. Warhol’s oversized Campbell’s soup-can paintings line a wall, much like soup cans lining a grocery store shelf; Claes Oldenburg’s vulgar-looking candies are displayed in a candy-counter replica; Christo’s physical storefront is placed against another wall.
Visitors might be pleasantly surprised by the crowd-pleasing roster of artists who are linked to Pop Art in this show, including Ed Paschke, Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha and James Rosenquist. The exhibition’s emphasis on consumerism gets visitors thinking about Pop Art in contemporary terms: has society’s obsession with goods waned today? If anything, it has amplified. Today’s society not only consumes goods, but also vast amounts of information. The exhibition suggests how Pop Art’s focus on image culture prefigures our current screen-based consumer obsessions. Increasingly consumers reach for screens: using a smartphone or computer to buy, interact and stay informed. Indeed everyday life and celebrity culture are still popular subjects, which is one reason this show resonates with audiences. (Amy Haddad)
Through March 27 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago
Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert is a curator, critic and editor. She is the inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. She was formerly Curatorial Fellow at the Chicago Artists Coalition, Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.