Category Archives: Week8

Nouveau réalisme, the European pop art

Vittoria Somaschini

This week I wanted to examine movements that were similar to Pop Art in the UK and the United States that were also occurring at the same moment. After some research, I discovered nouveau realisme that was developing in France around the 1960’s. The movement has been compared to pop art many times, however, unlike pop art, it died around the 1970’s, additionally, the movement has its roots in surrealism and Dada as it grew out of the Lettrism movement in the 1940’s. Some of the major artists associated with Nouveau Realisme include Jacques Villegle, Niki de Saint Phalle, Mimmo Rotella, and Yves Klien.


I wanted to focus on Niki de Saint Phalle and Jacques Villegle. Saint Phalle and Villegle both experimented with art in the same ways that Warhol, Koons, and Rauschenberg did. Villegle most notably brought commercial art to high art as he created collages out of pre-WWII posters. His art is laced with hybridization as it is part high art, part street art, and part commercially produced art. Both the works of Villegle and Saint Phalle can be examined under the perspective of semiotics as Villegle’s works, much like Warhol’s work, often incorporate text, images of the celebrity, and photo realism.

Saint Phalle on the other hand has works that are reminiscent of Koon’s statues, Haring’s colorful playfulness, and Rauschenberg’s sculptures. Much like other pop artists, she hyper sexualized the female body in her series of works called Nanas, the French colloquialism for “chick”. The life size sculptures embody appropriation of culture and art as they are a reiteration of African fertility symbols. The nana’s are life sized, and boldly colored – much like other pop art, full figured women, who symbolize female power.

Works Cited:

“Designed by Reality.” Museum Ludwig Köln. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Jacques De La Villeglé.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2013.

Neal, Jean. “Niki De Saint Phalle: The Power of Playfulness.” The Telegraph. N.p., 26 Feb. 2008. Web.

“Nouveau Réalisme.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Oct. 2013. Web.


Death in Pop Art: From Warhol to Murakami

By Abby Bisbee

Andy Warhol has taken his place in art history as the father of Pop art as it is consumed today. While there were earlier artists that influenced the Pop movement such as Rauschenberg, it can be argued the Warhol has been the most influential in the manner that pop art is consumed in the twenty-first century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Warhol began to make his “Death in America” series focusing on subject matter that depicting traumatic and often gruesome photographs of death. In the series Warhol still implemented his signature “machine” methodology of printmaking; the pieces still centered on the repetition of the image. The use of repetition has been interpreted in several different ways by scholars, some arguing that it promotes the effect of the image, others stating that it dilutes the power of the subject. The largest question that has arisen through this period in Warhol’s work is whether the art is representational or simulacral (Foster); in other words, does the art merely depict an image that has been separated from its context and is only significant to the viewer in its formal quality or does the repeated subject still translate a particular meaning because one can never completely disassociate himself from context. The conclusion that both the author Hal Foster and I have come to is that it is indeed both. The representational element or the context cannot be taken away from the subject, but it is the manner in which Warhol uses repetition to create a simulacral piece of art that ends up reinforcing the power of the image.

Takashi Murakami came onto the contemporary-art scene in the 1990s with a Japanese interpretation of Pop art. Murakami’s “pop strategy for mixing references to canonical art – historical figures or subjects with consumer sources is analogous to the work of Andy Warhol” (Darling). Murakami has taken his traditional training in nihonga, a “hybrid of European and traditional Japanese painting” created in the 19th century, and merged it with images inspired by modern Japanese pop culture (Lubow). In the late 1990s, Murakami coined the technique of “Superflat” where images have a start two-dimensional quality, particularly in his paintings. This technique has been strongly influenced by traditional Japanese painting and is used to “indicate a mix of high and low art” (Vogel). Where Warhol’s art was both heavily weighted on the representational and the simulacral, Murakami’s art is blatantly representational. Over the course of his career his artwork has moved from channeling the sexual overtones of the okatu culture in Japan to the modern cute culture. The latter, surprisingly, may actually serve to bring greater awareness of death and evil in our world. In the following two paragraphs, I will examine two pieces of art by Murakami that use cute culture to draw attention to underlying social issues that he believes are prevalent in Japanese culture today.

Time-Bokan, acrylic, canvas, wood, 2001.

Time-Bokan, acrylic, canvas, wood, 2001.

Time-Bokan (2001) is an image that Murakami has integrated dozens of times. In it he has taken a popular image of a mushroom cloud, flattened the image by highly contrasting it and separating the image and the background only using two colors, pink and white. Needless to say, the mushroom cloud represents a dark hour for the people of Japan dating back to World War II when the US dropped two atomic bombs over the country. The atomic bomb is representative of death and pain as well as the loss of cultural identity and power. In Hal Foster’s piece, “Death in America,” he notes that the repetition used in Warhol’s artwork in his series of Death in America reinforces the traumatic because you are not only confronted by the image once, but several times. It is his technique rather than the subject matter that makes the work so much more powerful.

Similarly, Murakami uses his technique to draw attention to the subject matter. In Time-Bokan Murakami takes the outline of the mushroom cloud and implements his cute culture techniques to transform the cloud into a face. While the resulting image still appears to be a skeleton, thus still calling to the trauma in the painting, Murakami has used his “Superflat” technique and use of “cute” colors to draw it away from realism and to diffuse the trauma of the piece. But, as Foster similarly argues about Warhol, it is this diffusion of the trauma of the subject that forces the viewer to examine the not only the context of the piece, but the meaning behind its portrayal. Like Warhol, Murakami takes the “mass subject” to portray the “anonymous victims of history,” in this case the Japanese history (Foster). As Lubow notes, “fear and anger…[are]…adopted right on the surface.” Murakami has used cute culture to illustrate his position on contemporary Japanese society. When curating an exhibition with the Japan Society in New York in 2005, he referred to his country as an “unmoored, apolitical state” (Japan Society). By taking these powerful images of the atomic bomb and transforming them into something more easily consumed, he is referencing how current Japanese society has addressed the world since WWII from the position of child, living in a dream world. Time-Bokan is only one example of how Murakami has addressed current social and political issues within Japanese society, but its technique and use of death emphasize the power that Pop art has been able to have ever since the time of Warhol.

Works Cited:

Darling, Michael. “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness.” Art Journal, 60. 3 (2001): 76-89. Print.

Foster, Hal. “Death in America.” October, 75. (1996): 36-59. Print.

Arthur Lubow, “The Murakami Method,” New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2005.

“Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture.” Japan Society, 2005. Web. 22 Oct 2013. <>.

Carol Vogel, “The Murakami Influence,” New York Times, April 6, 2005.



By: Arianna Drumond 

Andy Warhol is undoubtedly the preeminent artist of the Pop Culture era. His subjects range from the seemingly mundane kitsch of middle class Americana, to the over-the-top glamour of Hollywood celebrity.  Regardless of the subject, Warhol held the unique ability to deconstruct the essence of a subject only to then reconstruct it as a symbol of romantic and idolized thought.


Through his exploration of Hollywood stars and their status as tragic figures in American culture, Warhol explored the impacts of a consumer culture. The 1962 “Marylin Dyptich” completed shortly after the actress’ death, looks at the relationship between the life and death of a Hollywood idol. Warhol used a single publicity photo to create fifty silkscreened images, which were then compiled into a single work. As stated by Richard Dormant in “What is Andy Warhol,” Warhol “wasn’t painting a woman of flesh, blood, and psychological complexity but a publicity photograph of a commodity created in a Hollywood studio.” The “Marylin Dyptich” expresses a sort of empathy for the celebrity destroyed by the spotlight. The repetition of the portrait and the increasingly faded quality of the black and white images are metaphors both for consumerism and death.


Out of his fascination with simulacra, and the idea that the representational figure of a subject can have just as much meaning as the subject itself, Warhol explored a series of political icons as well. His 1976 work “Hammer and Sickle” was based on graffiti images found throughout Italy. The subject had also become a popular piece of paraphernalia within the Punk movement and was heavily mass-produced at the time. Warhol creates a menacing image, a deep red shadow surrounding the hammer and sickle—symbols of the Soviet Union. While Warhol acknowledged the political symbolism, he regarded the items as Pop. They have been deconstructed as political tools, and redesigned to make a statement on their new significance in pop culture.

hammer and sickle


Dorment, Richard. “What is Andy Warhol?,” The New York Review of Books,October22, 2009. Accessed October 21, 2013.

Foster, Hal. “Death in America,” October 75 (1996). The MIT Press.

Hammer & Sickle: Interpreting Symbols and Meaning. “The Warhol: Resources and Lessons.” Accessed October 21, 2013.

Marylin Diptych. “Tate.” Accessed October 21, 2013.




Warholian Paradox in Maos

Although most of Warhol’s art presents extreme repetition and mundane objects, they are never perceived by us in simple ways.  In his Death in America, Hal Foster describes Warhol’s art as being full of oxymorons –“referential and simularcral, connected and disconnected, affective and affectless” (Foster, 39).  Such so-called “Warholian paradox” is particularly shown well in many of Warhol’s portraits of celebrities.  I would like to talk about one of the portraits, Mao (1972).


In 1972, Warhol produced a series of differently-sized silkscreens, all based on the massive portrait of China’s then Chairman, Mao Zedong, which still hangs at Tiananmen Square.  However, rather than reproducing the portrait exactly, he painted abstract or arbitrary colors on blank canvases before running a black-ink silkscreen over this painting. In this way, no two paintings are exactly the same (Cornita, 2011)

As in many of his other portraits, although he used the photographic print as the base, he never utilized all of the “photographic information.”   He totally ignored the symbolic conception of the original portrait, Mao’s political power and in China and identity as a communist authority.   Instead, by the use of highly contrasting colors and “feminizing” effect – which makes Mao look if he were wearing lipstick and eye shadow – he transformed the macho leader’s propaganda image to a portrait of a foppish middle-aged man.  Surely, these paintings, produced without any understanding of the symbolic meaning and identity, the original portrait just seems as a pure commercial product which makes fun of the notorious political celebrity in order to please the consumers, us who are in the opposite side of communists.

Of course, they might be more than just that.  According to Foster, Warhol’s use of compulsive repetition suggests “obsessive fixation of the object in melancholy” (Foster, 42).  As for Warhol’s series of repetitive pictures portraying traumatic events, disasters, Foster sees that the repetition plays a role to “reproduce the traumatic effect” (Foster, 42).  Likewise, the series of Mao’s portraits might be seen as emphasizing the political persona of Mao rather than deconstructing it, or, as Foster puts it, they “wards [the audience] away of the [political identity, meaning of Mao] and opens [them] out to it” (Foster, 42).

Also, the diversity in colors and sizes in the portraits might reflect the idea that our symbolic conceptions of Mao cannot be generalized, which contradicted to what the original portrait was intended – the universalization of Mao’s image as politically authoritative.  In the end, we might interpret Warhol’s portraits of Mao as observing, reflecting, questioning, challenging, and ignoring the socially constructed meaning of “Mao” at the same time.

<Work cited>

1. Foster, Hal. “Death in America,” October 75 (1996). The MIT Press.

2. Cornita, Jenny. “Warhol’s Mao”. W Magazine. Jan, 2011.

The Female Body as a Sign of Transgression in Wangechi Mutu´s Work

Estefanía Tocado

10/ 21/13

While I was observing Wangechi Mutu´s paintings, specifically “The Bride Who Married the Camel´s Head,” I started to make connections with other readings and images I had previously seen.  As the artist states, the female body has become one of her motifs in her work through which she explores the contradictory idea that Western media uses to portray African women.  This dichotomy appears under the highly sexualized African woman or the traditional tribal woman.  By reworking these paradigms, Mutu affirms that she wants to establish a dialog between the two archetypes of women in the search for the synergy between both while running away from objectification.  Maybe this need to rewrite the female body represents a means to fix the traumatic real, to screen it, and to produce it (Foster 46).

Mutu’s affirmations made me think of 16th century Spain, an era of serious religious conflict with racial and religious discrimination towards Jews and Muslims, where the female body projected this apprehension towards the Other by the means of preservation of her body and the fear of adultery.  Georgina Dopico Black in her book chapter “Visible Signs:  Reading the Wife´s Body in Early Modern Spain” argues that the wife´s body serves as a transcoder of the cultural anxieties of early modern Spain – a site where issues of interpretation or misinterpretation, especially signs of Otherness – racial, religious, cultural – are projected, materialized, codified, negotiated, and even contested (4).  In the same way as it occurred in the Spanish Golden Age, many other racially discriminatory discourses have used women´s bodies as a sign of double discrimination.  One good example is in postcolonial studies.  Homi Bhabha affirms in his essay “The Other Question: The Stereotype and the Colonial Discourse” that colonial discourse is dependent on the concept of fixity in the construction of the Other.  Fixity as a sign of cultural, historical, and racial difference is a paradoxical mode of representation.  It connotes rigidity.  On the contrary the stereotype, that is a discursive strategy that moves between what is always in place and something that is anxiously repeated, has been created around the bestial sexual license of the African that needs no proof but it has not been proved (Bhabha 18).

I believe that, following Bhabha´s theoretical approach, Mutu´s painting is trying to dismantle this stereotype of the African woman from the inside out, in a dialogic manner, as a path to establish a constantly reconfiguring dialog between the Western and African Worlds.  Interestingly enough her painting reflects a woman whose hair is snakes, clearly establishing a symbolism with Medusa, the classical mythological figure.  She is blurring the boundaries between high and low culture, breaking the relationships of power based on European and African myths.  As Hélène Cixous affirms in her essay “The Laugh of the Medusa”:  “Woman must write her self:  must write about women and bring women to writing from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies…Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” (875).  I believe Mutu´s bride is writing her own story, claiming her own body, and putting herself in a dialogic space in which art serves as a path to dismantle old relationships of power

Works Cited

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs 1.4 (1976): 875-893.

Dopico Black, Georgina.  “Visible Signs:  Reading the Wife´s Body in Early Modern Spain.”  Perfect Wives, Other Women:  Adultery and Inquisition in Early Modern Spain.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 2001. 1-47.

Bhabha, Homi. ““The Other Question: The Stereotype and the Colonial Discourse.” Ed. Francis Barker. The Politics of Theory. Colchester-England, 1983.

Foster, Hal. “Death of America.” October 75 (1996): 36-59.