Book Reviews -- Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955-62 by Donna DeSalvo, Paul Schimmel et Al

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Hand-Painted Pop: American in Transition, 1955-62. Donna DeSalvo, Paul Schimmel, et al. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (exhib. cat.) and Rizzoli International Publications, 1992. Illustrated. 256 pp. Paper $39.95.

The traditional explanation has been that Pop Art reversed the short hegemony of abstraction, replacing the hermetic with the commercial, the implied with the explicit and the abstract with the very real. Like any basic dialectic, such an explanation for the transfiguration of the 1950s in American art and culture is perhaps too facile and too inflexible to accommodate the kinds of intermediates, ambiguities, and shared elements recognized in this book and exhibition. Hand-Painted Pop reminds us that Pop Art began with many resemblances to the prevailing abstract painting. Later, abstraction moved to more hard-edge, as, in fact, did Pop Art. Lion and lamb could seemingly lie down together, at least at first. Visually, perhaps they could and the argument of hand-painting--the allegiance to the brushstroke, the love of paint, the apparent personality of the creator translated through gesture--may be visually convincing, especially in the pivotal instance of Jasper Johns. On a formulistic and purely visual level, there is some argument to be made here and the exhibition (first at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and then in Chicago ad New York) works more effectively than the book to refute any too-easy polarity between the art movements in conflict. But, alas, bedfellows they were not, even in the politics of art's separate culture in the 1950s. …

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