By Ellen Frankman
Pop art simply isn’t what it used to be. At least not according to David Pagel, Los Angeles art critic and adjunct curator at the Parrish Art Museum. Pagel curated this month’s “Underground Pop” exhibit at the Parrish, assembling 35 works by 10 artists who all share a quirky new perception of the Pop tradition, a development that is in fact the inspiration for the show itself.
“I was noticing a dark tone or kind of a dark strand running through a lot of work I was looking at,” recounts Pagel. “I think Pop is getting kind of streamlined and slick and corporate and prepackaged.”
Pagel chose the pieces based on his recognition of their “greater emotional range,” despite their existence within a genre of art notable for its glossy, rather shallow aesthetic produced admist a craze of consumerism in the ’50s and ’60s.
Pagel noticed that much of this nouveau-Pop he was drawn to, despite all having been made in the last five years, in fact reflected back in artistic history – to early Pop and beyond early Pop, but also to folk art.
“They found that freedom in folk art where it was more handmade, more experimental,” explains Pagel. “The freedom and the idiosyncrisy in the individuality that comes with folk…I think that’s what I’m most interested in.”
For Pagel, the dark brooding mood that first intrigued him appears to be a product of this freedom, quietly lurking behind the “scrappier, funkier, more playful” tradition of folk art.
As a result, a sense of slowness emerges, a low-tech drawling composure that can’t be captured by computer pixels. “I think people are increasingly impatient to know things and to get results and I think a lot of the artists in my show are interested in slowing that process down,” says Pagel.
In choosing the works to include, Pagel didn’t discriminate according to medium. The exhibit showcases collage, bronze sculpture, oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas and even a projected video, exhibiting a range of artists while still allowing the viewer to get a sense of each artist’s individual aesthetic.
“I think it emphasizes the openness, it’s kind of anything goes. The meaning doesn’t reside only in the material, but what one does with the material,” Pagel says.
His only requirement was that the work captivate him and that the range in art be diverse.
“I had to be keenly interested in the work and I didn’t want any of the artists to be showing something similar to another artist in the show. I wanted everyone to be doing their own thing.”
And with an end goal in mind of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, Pagel appears satisfied with the collection. He loosely grouped the works by artist, but ultimately arranged to look best in his own mind. “I wanted to give each piece its own space so it didn’t look crowded, and I wanted each piece to talk to its neighbors.” In this careful attention to placement, Pagel finds the works resonate most strongly.
Though he insists he cannot take credit for eliciting any greatness not already within the art, as a curator Pagel feels he can “bring out” what may be hidden. “I can make a viewer see something he may not have expected to see,” he says.
Though the audience’s reception is kept first in mind, the process also brings joy to the curator himself. “One of the things I most enjoy is that I’ll put things together and I will see connections between the artists that I hadn’t seen before,” Pagel shares excitedly.
“My great love of Pop art is its accessibility. I’m interested in art that you don’t need to get a PhD to understand,” he laughs. “I would just hope that people take the time to look at it and think about and enjoy it – it’s a pretty fun show,” Pagel shares before chiming in finally, “and also a dark show!”