The first session of “Pop and Politics” ended up being really interesting and productive. Ten minutes before the scheduled start time, things weren’t looking so promising, as panelists and co-chairs still outnumbered audience members in the massive conference room. By the time the panel started, however, we had a lively audience of at least 40. Allison Unruh introduced the panelists and expressed her well-deserved satisfaction at having assembled such a diverse and interesting group of scholars and topics. My paper proposed a reading of Warhol’s Superman (1961) informed by contemporary injunctions to amateur cultural participation, particularly those directed at working-class audiences. Hiroko Ikegami’s paper investigated Jasper Johns’ ties to the Japanese art world in the 1960s and 1970s, unearthing fascinating material that has thus far remained unremarked in Johns scholarship, including compelling evidence of mutual influence between Johns and major critics like Takiguchi Shuzo and Shinohara Ushi. Seth McCormick provided a fascinating overview and critique of Hal Foster’s argument regarding Warhol and rupture, countering with an approach informed by Rancière and Robert Dine, and concluding that the “fetishistic and eroticized character” of Jasper Johns’s images ought to be recognized instead of their simulacral qualities. Tom Williams explored the history of Claes Oldenburg’s dalliances with political action and politicized artmaking. He walked us through this intriguing material and then argued, convincingly, that in Oldenburg’s case at least, “It wasn’t so much that Pop Art was political as that political critique found an amenable ally in Pop Art.” Finally, co-chair Kalliopi put forward a long-overdue investigation of some of the female and francophone elements of Pop, including stunning works by Niki de Saint Phalle, Chryssa Romanos, and Axell. She pointed out that Pop “meant different things to its friends and enemies in the fractured Parisian artworld,” and drew attention in particular to Romanos’ Reportage series, which she convincingly described as exposing consumerism’s complicity with contemporary violence and exploitation.
Overheard in the hallway later:
Solo attendee to group: Are you guys still going to the [inaudible] session?
One of group: [pause] Informally…
Soloist: Can I join you informally?