When Pop Turned The Art World Upside Down


In the first half of 1963, pop swiftly consolidated its position at the forefront of American art. Museum after museum- in New York, Kansas City, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles—mounted shows. But the critical phase, winning pre-eminence among New York’s dealers and collectors, was over. The hegemony of abstract expressionism was broken, the divide between fine art and mass culture crossed. In its embrace of the vernacular, pop was a breath of fresh air, an indication of the redefinitions and fresh starts the sixties would bring.

Abstract expressionism had drawn the artist’s gaze inward, to a purely subjective realm. What was hard for its artists and ideologues to accept about pop was its reversal of this gaze, its redirection of the artist’s awareness outward: to the teeming, exciting, vulgar new world of early-sixties America. Pop argued that the world was worth looking at—and it won the argument.