Welcome to Study Hall Detention. I want books open…and pens, pencils and paper out on desks…and NO TALKING! Or you’ll receive another detention. I ask you to please not forget why you’re here, so please think about it. Today, we’ll be learning about three important artworks, created during the mid-to-late 20th century.
First up is the collage (left) Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, done in 1956. To many, this work is considered one of the very first to fall under the classification, or movement, known as Pop Art. It was created by Richard Hamilton, John McHale, and John Voelcker (all using the name Group 2), who submitted the work as a trio to the This Is Tomorrow exhibition, held in London that same year. The piece was seen prominently by the public, as its image was used for the exhibition poster, and was featured in the catalog… soon spreading around the world via reproduction. Today, the work is credited to Richard Hamilton only, who technically designed the collage alone, using images from John McHale’s files (Richard Hamilton’s side of the argument can be read here). Historically, John McHale is known as an important art world figure with a visionary appreciation of mass-produced images in popular media and consumer culture, and is known for coining the phrase “Pop Art” (in 1954). Art historians often refer to him as “The Father of Pop Art.” This fact is blatantly represented in this work by the use of the word “Pop” on the Tootsie Pop candy label being held by the body builder.
Regardless of the small controversy over ownership, this piece became quite popular with the general public, mainly due to its colorful and humorous imagery (and its use of the naked female form, which appears unapologetically pornographic rather than artistic), and the piece encapsulated — and perhaps was even seen as parodying — the characteristics of modern art, and eventually Pop Art, which back then was still perceived by most people as “wacky.”
I personally encountered this work for the first time as a child, in an old issue of Mad magazine - which had enthusiastically reproduced it for a gonzo satire of the art world. The collage has been parodied and mimicked throughout the later 20th century, even by Richard Hamilton himself.
As stated, many consider this one of the — if not the — very first important Pop Art piece (the main argument being one of assembled mixed media vs. painting, or sculpture - or even appropriation and copyrights). Chronologically, Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey cartoon strip painting would not appear until 1961, and Andy Warhol’s much-heralded Campbell’s Soup Cans paintings would not be created until 1962.
Today, the original collage itself, which measures a mere 10 x 9 inches, resides in the collection of the Kunsthalle Museum, in Germany.
Our next work is the black and white short animated film Bambi Meets Godzilla, created by Marv Newland in 1969. Less than two minutes long, the film derives its humor from a clever twist on the tradition of long film credits, and also gets a lot of mileage out of its title (the perceivably crass pairing, in a dual, of the popular Godzilla and Bambi characters, and their respective campy images). This audience-pleaser was shown at a few festivals when it was created, and amassed a small following over time. During the 70’s, it began running as a short to precede feature films, mainly in art house theaters, and sometimes was shown as an oddity on local variety television programs. In the early 80’s, it also began airing on local public television stations, and some UHF channels, as a time filler or sometimes as a late night “going off the air” closer. A colorized version of the short appeared sometime in the 70’s, and over the decades many copies, even plagiarized or uncredited recreations, have appeared (the YouTube link above is the original). Several intentional sequels have also been made over the years, but none by Newland himself.
The film was written, directed and produced by Marv Newland, on a small budget, and it’s initial exhibition was hustled by him alone without the aid of a studio or backers. So, it is therefore thought of as a very early example the independent animated film. The film’s tongue-in-cheek mood can obviously be traced back to other comic book, animation and comedy sources from the 50’s and 60’s, but it’s aesthetic standing as “cartoon short” was unprecedented. Animation continued to expand as a medium for underground or “fringe” comedy expression through the 70’s, but a decade later, in the early 80’s, the popularity of the independent animated short exploded (exemplified and kicked into gear Wesley Archer’s influential Jac Mac & Rad Boy Go! short from the early 80’s, which aired to great demand on late night network shows like Night Flight, and MTV) and soon, several different annual “film festival” series, each comprised of new and expectedly outrageous animated shorts from around the world, began popping up regularly as feature films in art house cinemas.
Arguably, wryly sarcastic and satirical animation like Matt Groening’s The Simpsons (begun in the very late 80’s), and that of John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy (the early 90’s), could be traced partially back to the popularity of Bambi Meets Godzilla. Today, its influence in animation is omnipresent.
Marv Newland went on to create many other animated shorts, and have an extensive and lucrative career in animation, working mainly in television and in the film industry.
Next is…PAY ATTENTION! Next is the performance art piece Shoot by Chris Burden, done in 1971. The work consisted of Burden getting shot in the arm by an assistant, with a .22-caliber rifle, from a distance of thirteen feet. It was performed in front of an audience at the F Space gallery in Santa Ana, California, on November 19th, 1971. The plan was for the bullet to just graze Burden’s left arm, but the shooter missed and the bullet penetrated his arm, though he was not badly hurt. Semi-filmed footage of the event can be seen in Burden’s Documentation of Selected Works 1971-74 film (viewable at UbuWeb - it’s the second piece in the short, after the long intro by Burden). Shoot became hugely popular in the art world at the time, and in the press, and is regarded as a cornerstone of the performance art scenes that flourished during that decade. In 1976, Laurie Anderson wrote a strange song about it called “It’s Not The Bullet That Kills You, It’s The Hole” (you can hear an mp3 here, track #15). Burden was known for creating death-defying work even before this piece, and continued to create work of this type afterwards (like Deadman, where he lay at night in the middle of a busy La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angelos, covered by a tarp with two flares by his head…or in 747, where he fired a pistol at a Boeing 747 just after it took off from LAX airport). Important to remember: Chris Burden’s work and its relevance to our world today is obvious, now more than ever. That will be on the test. Later, Burden became a professor of art at UCLA in 1978. However, in a ironic twist, he resigned in 2005 in protest to a fervor (or lack thereof) created by one of his students, who surprised his class with a similar piece to Shoot.
Ok… Study Hall Detention is dismissed. You can go now, AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU DID!