Pop art was an art movement that initially occurred in the United States of America in the early sixties. The epicenter of this art phenomenon was New York, the city confirming its trend setting leader position. Although this movement strongly erupted in the early sixties, the attempts of change started during the late fifties in the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. These painters wanted to replace the abstract mode of artistic expression, aiming at making the art’s message easier to be understood by the public. The first pop art paintings contained easy to recognize images of common items. The purpose of incorporating these objects was to mock the gravity, the metaphysical dullness of abstract expressionism that had started to become out of fashion. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg introduced amusing objects into the first pop art paintings: flags, maps and targets or stuffed animals and rubber tyres for the latter artist. The pop art movement become famously known for their main feature: mockery and irony.
Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were the most representative artists for this new art stream. Their pop art paintings were characterized by their original display of popular culture’s symbols: advertisements, media images or even comic strips. These new, colorful, lively pop art paintings were strikingly opposing the gravity, the spirituality of abstract expressionism. Consequently, these kinds of pop art paintings become very popular among the art loving public and among the art critics community. But the abstract expressionism continued to be highly appreciated, despite the pop art paintings’ mockery.
Although the pop art movement was popular and influential it proved to lack the strength of completely supplant the abstract expressionism, but it determined the birth of two new schools of abstraction: color-field painting and minimalist art. The color-field painting movement (mainly represented by painter Helen Frankenthaler) minimized the influence of abstract expressionism’s old features into a style completely committed to the use of pure color.
The American art of the sixties remained in the art history books as a period of constant rivalries between different competing styles and ideas. Yet, the pop art paintings represented best the ideas and the symbols of the American lifestyle in the sixties.