Mary Heilmann's Pop Art

Mary Heilmann, "Malevich Spin," 2011, oil on canvas, approx. 20 x 20 in.
Unlike pop music, which for the most part focuses on the pleasure principle, what became known as the pop art movement isn't predominantly pleasurable. Rather it portrays the elements of mass-produced post-war popular culture: Think Oldenburg's hamburgers, Rosenquist's canned spaghetti, Warhol's soup cans, or Lichtenstein's comic books writ large. They aren't necessarily unpleasurable, but pleasure isn't the point. A painting like this one from Mary Heilmann, however, pushes pleasure to the limit, while somehow never wearing out its welcome, kind of like the Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice." I pulled this painting a couple weeks ago from the website of the gallery where she shows, with the intent of creating this post. In the interim, I've opened it on my screen a few times and without fail get a visceral kick. The title tells us the piece is a tribute to Kazimir Malevich, the pioneer of non-objective, or non-representational, art, which devoted itself to the pleasure and exploration of form and color, without reference to traditional narratives.


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