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  • Writer's pictureShara Mercado Poole

POP Portraits

Updated: May 8, 2018

Takashi Murakami, The Future will be Full of Smile! For Sure! 19.75" x 19.75", mixed media graphic

This past April was the annual SGCI (Southern Graphics Council, International) conference. SGCI represents the largest printmaking organization in North America and their annual conference is the largest gathering of artists, suppliers and educators dedicated to the medium. For better or worse, this year’s conference was hosted at Bally’s in Las Vegas, Nevada. While four days amidst the cigarette smoke and constant clattering was more than ample for my emotional and physical well-being, my soul was constantly being nurtured by art. Not only was the conference centered on printmaking, in honor of this gathering, the local art galleries were almost exclusively exhibiting printed works.

“Art is something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.” —Keith Haring

Keith Herring, Retrospect

46" x 82", silkscreen

Before this trip, I had been quite unaware of how large and prolific the local fine art scene is in Vegas. When I think of Vegas, like many people, I mostly think of gambling, burlesque shows, and Celine Dion. On my third evening, I ventured into the Downtown Vegas Arts District to attend their First Friday Artwalk. There was a huge local turnout for the galleries, live music, food trucks and craft vendors. This city encourages the arts heavily, even providing free public transportation through the Arts District.

As surprised as I was over the downtown art scene, I was even more surprised the next day when I journeyed across the street from Bally’s and discovered there is a Martin Lawrence Gallery located in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. They were also exhibiting primarily printed works. In addition to their exciting collection of Picasso lithographs and etchings, the primary exhibit, POP Portraits, featured the works of many of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries including Andy Warhol, Jean–Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Mark Kostabi, Vik Muniz, and Philippe Bertho.

POP Portraits, a tribute to over 50 years of pop art, shows the wide-reaching affects of the genre while also navigating the relationships between urban art, advertising, comics, and the artist’s personal feelings about the purpose of art and its relationship to money. Pop art has come under fire often throughout the years for its use of bold graphics, colors, and overall presentation of imagery. In the mid-1960s, art critic Sidney Tillman, referencing Rosenquist’s F-111, complained the fragmented advertising imagery and disruptive use of scale and color could be read as a “deliberate rejection of the compositional devices of traditional painting” (Kalb, 2014). This assessment could theoretically be applied to all pop art, and for that matter, to a great deal of post-modern and contemporary art.

Basquiat, who is typically considered a Neo-Expressionist, was also known for his amalgam of bold graphic imagery which he combined with poetic and/or historical text. He was canonized almost immediately into his career, as his work was highly profitable for museums and art dealers. His works on display at Martin Lawrence consisted largely of minimalist single colored serigraphs on toned paper from a series called Untitled for Leonardo. These monochrome pieces offered a nice visual break from most of the rest of the show.

“I start a picture and I finish it. I don’t think about art while I work. I try to think about life. —Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean–Michel Basquiat, Untitled for Leonardo (Plate Ten) 34.75" x 30", silkscreen

Jean–Michel Basquiat, Untitled for Leonardo (Teeth)

34.75" x 30", silkscreen

Jean–Michel Basquiat, Untitled for Leonardo (Two Portions)

34.75" x 30", silkscreen

The works on display by Keith Haring and Takashi Murakami offered more of the typical pop art palette one would expect from this type of exhibition. Haring’s works on display were all serigraph, many depicting entrepreneur and Pop Art icon Andy Warhol. In these large serigraphs, he calls to light the aspect of art as a money-making endeavor through playful and recognizable consumer imagery. The works by Murakami ooze both commercialism and adorableness through their flat and clean graphic quality. Murakami is known for not only capitalizing on commercial imagery, but also utilizing commercial production and merchandizing methods in his art practice. Both Haring and Murakami have challenged the notion that contemporary art should strictly be about content and form with no desire for monetary profit.

Keith Herring, Andy Mouse #1

38" x 38", silkscreen

Keith Herring, Andy Mouse #3

38" x 38", silkscreen

I can’t think of a better place for this exhibition to have been than in Las Vegas, or Caesars Palace for that matter. Where else is one surrounded by the glitz and glamour of so much consumer culture? Where else can one go to obtain almost anything money can buy? Caesars Palace is an homage to the status that can be obtained through the conquest for ownership for more and more stuff. POP Portraits addresses our modern consumer culture through the guise of contemporary art. The high price tags on works that were produced in multiples further drives home the message that art not only exists in the dirty world of money and status symbols but is in itself a major player.

“In Japan, there is no high and there is no low. It’s all flat.” —TAKASHI MURAKAMI

Takashi Murakami, And then, and then...Original Blue 19.5" x 19.5", offset lithograph

Takashi Murakami, An Homage to Monopink 29" x 21", mixed media graphic

Takashi Murakami, And then, and then...Lemon Pepper

19.5" x 19.5", offset lithograph

Note: Unfortunately, this gallery was staunchly against me taking photographs of the exhibited works for my blog. I found this odd given that their are many photos available online, but I guess that saved me the trouble of editing and color correcting my own photos.

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Lindsey Hernandez
Lindsey Hernandez
May 11, 2018

Definitely going to be checking out that gallery when I go to Vegas. It is exciting to discover that there is such a large art scene there other than performance, adds one more thing to do while visiting. So cool!

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