Too often people pass through modern-art exhibits and never really understand the significance of them. Many times entire art movements are rendered inaccessible merely because no one takes the time to explain them, and often rooms and wall space aren’t conducive to helping create links for inexperienced art viewers. The University Museum of Art admirably took the time to put together a complete exhibit and then thoughtfully position the pieces and provide explanations. The result is an inspiring exhibit that focuses on art from America’s past while drawing connections to its future.

Fine Arts Reviews
Students browse the “Pop!” exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art on Tuesday. (Alex Dziadosz/Daily)

Using the mundane as symbols for resistance and uncapped, unquestioned consumerism, the pop art Movement has epitomized an era and impacted the way many choose to view and create art. The pop art of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s reflected the controversial nature of the time ­— it broke from tradition and remade or reemphasized what artists saw as universal truths and injustices.

Students with only base knowledge of art and those well versed in modern art are able to reflect on these turbulent times. “Pop!” Illustrates how the struggles portrayed by legendary artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Dine and Oldenburg are still relevant now.

The exhibit features a vital, succinct collection of works by pop art luminaries. A large portion of the gallery is devoted to central member Andy Warhol’s works; paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans are displayed alongside boxes of Brillo Pads and prints of Marilyn Monroe. Because of the way Warhol’s work is positioned within the gallery, it’s easy to note the way he juxtaposes consumption and celebrity. Other single works, like Wayne Thiebaud’s “Glasses,” delicately accents the uniqueness that defines the individuals that make up a society powered by mass production.

Even if viewers don’t understand the motivation behind some works on display, the skill with which the pieces are created is beautiful, impressive and can be moving without any background information. Pieces such as Lichtenstein’s confrontational felt banner, “Pistol,” or Robert Indiana’s famous “Love” sculpture are eye catching and edgy even when the meaning behind the pieces isn’t contemplated. The stark images and bold colors resonate with gallery guests.

Viewers who don’t breeze through the gallery will leave the “Pop!” exhibit with a notion of the movement’s history and a sense of the political and social climate surrounding the artists when these works were produced. Together, the pieces that were chosen for the exhibit lend themselves to a sometimes-jaded stance that is particularly poignant in respect to current events and the attitudes of many Americans.

Some of the works reinterpret and even mock the importance of classical-art pieces. Many artists’ opposition to the Vietnam War obviously played a large role in certain works, while thoughtless consumerism or the nation’s habitual celebrity worship influenced others.

What is most striking about this exhibit is how relevant it seems today; the confusion about just how the nation’s role in Iraq should be defined mirrors the situation in Vietnam, and the media’s role in our perception of such events is reflective of the continuing importance placed on what can be mass produced and packaged. And, of course, there is an obvious connection between consumerism and the high stakes involved with commodities such as oil.

The vibrant exhibit is especially effective at a time when the country is divided politically and many are ambivalent about the nation’s continued involvement in Iraq. Viewers might go in expecting art with a uniquely ’60s mentality but are apt to come out linking the artistic messages with today’s struggles.

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