If images of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley come to mind when you hear the phrase “pop art,” think again.
Jonathan Katz, executive coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, spoke to an audience of almost 100 people in the Yale Center for British Art yesterday about the complexities of the pop art movement. The lecture was titled, “Sex Tourism: Transatlantic Projections of Desire in Pop Art.”
Katz introduced the crowd to the first pop art image — Richard Hamilton’s “Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing?” The collage depicts a man and woman posing in a living room whose ornaments create a “balancing of opposites … more salad than soup.” The domestic space, typically feminine at first glance but masculinized by posters and biceps, “infringes on [the viewer’s] experience of the world.”
Katz also said that when Hamilton depicted the female form in his work, he was engaging in sex tourism.
“‘Female’ is a male construction of femaleness,” he said. “Male artists ventriloquize.”
Hamilton, a British artist, practiced this ventriloquism as he explored the cultural effects of his homeland’s post-war technological boom. His “Hommage a Chrysler Corp.” presents the image of a woman merging with a new Chrysler vehicle, her breast becoming its headlight. Katz used this piece as an example of how pop art portrays consumers as the products they use. He quoted Hamilton as saying that “the time lag [the time between a product’s release and its popularity], can be used to design a consumer to the product, and he can be ‘manufactured’ during the production span.”
Katz showed the crowd how Hamilton’s other works also convey this “creepy sexism” and sexuality. In one collage, the interior of a car doubles as the anatomy of a lone human body. Emphasizing the dual nature of the portrait, he said that the representation indeed suggests a level of “auto-eroticism.”
Turning to the American side of the pop art spectrum, Katz examined the ubiquitous images of Andy Warhol. Displaying Andy Warhol’s Marilyn prints alongside Hamilton’s “My Marilyn”, Katz contrasted the artists’ approaches. Hamilton allowed the actress to draw on her picture with her own hand, and she “transformed and created her identity,” Katz said. Hamilton then pasted the images together as he saw fit, engaging himself in the creative process and adding his interpretation, the “My,” to Marilyn’s image. Warhol, on the other hand, did not tamper with Monroe’s photograph aside from altering the color scheme.
“How is a painting of a publicity photo different from a publicity photo in either form or function?” Katz said.
He said Warhol’s work actually becomes the commodity itself by “dissolving the artist’s self-delusion of his own freedom from commodity status.”
Morna O’Neill GRD ’04, who is specializing in the history of British art, said she appreciated Katz’s juxtaposition of the two artists.
“I thought he did a successful job at putting British and American pop in dialogue with one another,” O’Neill said.
Katz currently teaches a history of art seminar on Art, Sex, and the Sixties. According to the Blue Book, the course explores how “sexuality, its liberation and its suppression figure prominently in this inquiry into the paradoxical engendering of opposition through the citation of normative forms.”
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