Visual Edge: "Pop Departures" at Seattle Art Museum

Pop never dies

By Alec Clayton on November 17, 2014

"Pop Departures" at Seattle Art Museum is a look back at work by the leading pop artists of the 1960s and a jump forward to more contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Margaria Cabrera and Mickalene Thomas who continue to follow in the footsteps of those bad boys.

There are whole galleries devoted to Lichenstein and Warhol, unquestionably the brightest lights of the movement. Other artists represented in the show include Claes Oldenberg, Mel Ramos, Edward Ruscha, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist (inadequately represented by a single most-size painting).

Numerous galleries are dedicated to this show. Lichenstein dominates the first gallery with some of his most iconic images, such as "Kiss V," one of his many paintings of romance comic images, "Varoom," a comic-style explosion in and garish red, yellow and orange with lettering, and "Red Painting (Brush Stroke)," one of his famous paintings of an abstract-expressionist brush stroke. These paintings have lost none of their power over the years and have gained stature as pure design.

In another gallery are two of Lichenstein's paintings of famous modernist paintings, the best of these being "Reflections on Painter and Model," his copy in stripes and ben day dots of a Picasso painting. This is a marvelously composed picture that is at one and the same time a lampoon of and homage to the great Picasso.

The many Warhols in this show evidence just how expressive Warhol could be, despite his use of mechanical means and his claim to want to be a machine. These works also remind us just what a fabulous colorist he was. Look at the milky green blending to blue and the lemon yellow lips on the face of Richard Nixon in his painting "McGovern." These are indescribable colors that only Warhol could come up with (and yes, it is a portrait of Nixon with the name McGovern written across the bottom).

Among the best of the most contemporary works is Cabrera's "Vocho (Yellow)," an actual-size, smashed, yellow Volkswagen Beetle made of vinyl, batting, thread and car parts, including real bumper and tail lights. Obviously influenced by Oldenberg, this is a more powerful piece than any of the Oldenberg's in the show (his sculptures look best in situ and tend to look weak, if these are any indication, in a gallery setting).

I wish I could devote many more words to this review. It's a great show, and just one of many outstanding shows at SAM, including "American Art Masterworks" and "City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India."

"POP DEPARTURES," Thursday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m. through Jan. 11, 2015, Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle, www.seattleartmuseum.org