Educational dossiers - Museum’s Collections
A Movement, A Period

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Pop art

Andy Warhol, Ten Lizes, 1963

What is Pop Art?

The artists and their works
Jasper Johns, Figure 5, 1960
Roy Lichtenstein, Modular Painting with Four Panels, 1969
Claes Oldenburg, "Ghost" Drum Set, 1972
Robert Rauschenberg, Oracle, 1962-1965
Robert James Rosenquist, President Elect, 1960-1961
Andy Warhol, Ten Lizes, 1963






This dossier forms part of the series A Movement, a Period.
These dossiers are shaped around a selection of works from the main movements and tendencies represented in the collections of the National Museum of Modern Art.

Each of these dossiers includes:
- a general introduction which will present and situate the role of the movement in a historical, geographical and aesthetic context,
- a selection of the most representative works from the Museum's collections, contained in individual files each with notes, a reproduction and a biography of each artist,
- a chronology.

There are more than 59,000 works in the Museum's collections.
The Museum regularly varies the works on show in the exhibition spaces on the 4th and 5th levels of the Pompidou Centre. The educational dossiers have links set up to these new hangs.
To know more about the museum collections:



What is pop Art?

While the term Pop Art is widely known nowadays, its artistic scope and the issues it raises are nonetheless frequently misunderstood.

Pop Art in Britain refers to a group of artists who began appearing on the scene in the mid-1950s. This identity was formed around The Independent Group, an intellectual circle consisting of the painters Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, the architectural partnership of Alison and Peter Smithson, and the art critic Lawrence Alloway. In its theoretical explorations, The Independent Group focused on a theoretical exploration of technology, hence the recurring references to science-fiction in British Pop Art.

American Pop Art had no explicit linkups with British Pop Art and refers to a tendency that arose from individual initiatives. Though it was not a structured movement in the sense of a group putting on collective shows, it does however have a certain coherence. In general terms, it emerged from the work of Robert Rauschenberg and, chiefly, Jasper Johns, and is characterised by an interest in ordinary objects, irony, and a faith in the potency of images. American Pop Art has its home specifically in New York, where at the outset artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol exhibited, then James Rosenquist, George Segal and Tom Wesselman.

Aside from their genealogical divergences, British Pop Art and American Pop Art occupy common ground in their assumption of the same term. The term Pop Art was coined by Lawrence Alloway in the late 1950s, to indicate that art has a basis in the popular culture of its day and takes from it a faith in the power of images. But while Pop Art quotes from a culture specific to the consumer society, it does so in ironic mode, as inferred from the British painter Richard Hamilton's definition of his artistic output: "Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business".

However, this reference to popular culture is not cut and dried. How far can Pop Art go in quoting it without being confused with it?
While each individual artist brings his or her own singular response, it seems that Pop Art and "Pop Culture" are not to be confused, and that they maintain a dialectical relationship. While Pop Art takes its materials from mass culture, mass culture in return profits from the former's stylistic innovations.

From the early 60s up until 1970, the Pop tendency was multidisciplinary and international in character, something which was largely apparent in Italian design (for example, Piero Gatti's famous Sacco armchair, 1968, which recalled Claes Oldenburg's soft objects) and the Utopian architecture of the Archigram group (like Ron Herron's idea for Walking City, 1964) derived from the futuristic world of comic strips.

After 1970, the artists were to turn to much more oppositional preoccupations.



The artists and their works

Jasper Johns
Augusta, Georgia 1930

Jasper Johns, Figure 5, 1960
Encaustic paint on canvas and pasted newspaper
183 x 137.5 cm

This is the only painting by Jasper Johns in a French public collection. A large number 5, buried in paint, it appears as an emblematic figure of the art of the time. Almost as an act of synthesis, it represents the transition from an art of abstract expressionism, such as was developed in the US after the war, towards the figure, which will instead dominate the next decade. 

But here, as is often the case with Johns, the subject is ambiguous, for in the first instance this is only an abstract representation and, though it seems universally readable, it has no symbolic referent. Of course, one thinks of the use of the same number 5 by Charles Demuth in a painting famous in the US: I saw the figure 5 in gold, 1928 (New York, the Metropolitan Museum). However, in Johns the use of numbers, periodically returned to from 1955 on, is not idealised as in Demuth. The figure 5 is here the object of the painting, in broad black and white brush strokes which in places allow the newspaper pasted to the canvas to show through. 

Figure 5 comes from the Scull Collection, which is particularly rich in post-war American works of art. The Museum also holds a series of ten original collages on lithographs which returned to the theme of figures: Figure 0 to 9, 1960-1971.

• To see Figure 0 to 9, 1960-1971, ask for Jasper Johns in our Online collection
• Charles Demuth, I saw the figure 5 in gold, 1928 Metropolitan Museum, New York


Jasper Johns studied at the University of South Carolina until 1948. He then moved to New York where he learned commercial drawing before beginning military service in the US Army. Back from this in 1952, he made stained-glass and worked in a bookshop. He formed a friendship with Robert Rauschenberg in 1954. His early paintings, done with wax, a thick and translucent material, showing flags, targets and numbers, were first shown to the public in his first solo exhibition, at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1958. The choice of these two-dimensional familiar objects, together with the disassociation in operation between painting and personal expression heralded the advent of Pop Art and the simultaneous progressive eclipsing of Abstract Expressionism.

However, Johns strove to keep his distance from the movement in order to preserve the singularity of his own work. By using imagery that came out of commonplaces, what he described as things already known as ideas, he was asking questions about the real function of painting. The representation of the same theme allowed him to practise different techniques for drawing attention to the object.

After meeting Marcel Duchamp through the composer John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom he collaborated, in 1960 he began a series of sculptures in painted bronze representing ordinary objects such as electric light bulbs or beer cans; the purpose was to highlight the freshness of their banality in the human world.  Simultaneously, he produced drawings and lithographs which make him one of the contemporary masters in the field of graphic art.


Roy Lichtenstein
New York, 1923-1997

Roy Lichtenstein, Modular Painting with Four Panels, 1969
Oil and magna on canvas
4 panels measuring 137 x 137 cm

Modular Painting, 1969, is composed of four panels which are identical both in their dimensions and in the discernible subject matter. Yet the manner of their construction produces a central geometrical form which gives the impression that these panels have heterogeneous forms.

Lichtenstein is an illusionist. Modular Painting, with its impersonal and mechanical execution, keeps the viewer's gaze at a distance all the better to draw it in. This seemingly simple and austere composition can be interpreted as an ironic reference to abstract painting. 

All the same, this is not exactly an abstract picture. Abstract art refers to itself and is never the image of anything. But Lichtenstein's picture is a reproduction, as we can see from the screen dots, the kind of screenprinting also to be found in reproduced photographs and some comic strips. Modular painting, a painted reproduction of modular forms printed in a newspaper, is the copy of a copy. We can see that it is an enlargement of what it reproduces since the screen is extremely visible. But nothing allows us to think that the modular forms reproduced by Lichtenstein are true copies of an original. The original may not have existed; nor, therefore, its reproduction.

This picture, first taking to be a geometric abstract painting, which by definition reproduces nothing, is perhaps only simulating its representative function.


Roy Lichtenstein is one of the major figures of American Pop Art. In 1961, at the dawn of the movement, he had the idea of painting an enlargement of a comic strip image taken from a magazine. This was the starting point for a whole series produced on the basis of comic strips and advertising images which he continued until 1964. Lichtenstein was fascinated by the efficacy of these popular representations in which objects and passions are reduced to an accessible and anonymous essential that strikes him as having a vitality greatly superior to Abstract Expressionism, which at the time had sunk into academicism.

With the aim of achieving a high degree of neutrality, he painted the effects produced by printing techniques and the constraints of advertising imagery: the hatchings, the standard flat colours and the screen dots for shadow and relief. In 1964, he began a new serie of motifs with this vocabulary: tourist landscapes, paintings based on icons of the history of modern art, hyperrealist mirrors and paintings which quote from his earlier works.

The style which spectacularly characterises his work, beginning with the first Look Mickey in 1961, puts a perceptible distance between the model and the viewer. This way of dealing with images can be an ironic, acerbic or speculative style of critique, as in the Modular Paintings of 1969-1970, of which this example is held by the Museum.

The Lichtenstein foundation website


Claes Oldenburg
Stockholm, 1929

Claes Oldenburg, "Ghost" Drum Set, 1972
10 pieces made of canvas stuffed with polystyrene balls, sewn and painted (vinyl paint)
80 x 183 x 183 cm

With his "Ghost" Drum Set made of canvas stitched and painted white, Oldenburg is taking an object typical of pop-rock culture and subjecting it to the transformation that is both witty and grotesque. The drum kit becomes absurd as something made out of soft material, since it loses one of its essential attributes, the rigidity of the percussive cylinders. But the object becomes even more fragile and, because of its whiteness, apt to be blanked out and disappear, evoking the childhood idea of a ghost.

The ghost version has its basis in a soft version that Oldenburg made in 1967 for an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This was a piece made in colour, and in parallel to a monumental project imagined in 1966 for a big top in a London leisure park, in which the drums would enclose auditoriums. Miniature portable versions were also produced in 1970.

Through this series of works, Oldenburg is moving through a cycle which he set out to impose upon the objects on which he works. After an initial phase of energy and activity represented by a hard version, the object deteriorates by becoming soft, and undergoes entropy to the point when it dies, completing its cycle in a ghost version, a phase of decomposition whereby its matter is obliterated and only the idea remains. "Ghost" Drum Set is this final phase.


After studying art and literature at the prestigious Yale University, Oldenburg took evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1950 to 1952. He moved to New York in 1956. There he met Allan Kaprow, the inventor of the Happening, who invited him to take part in these events. This is how Oldenburg began organising his own Happenings.

Influenced by art brut, his first plastic works use various junk materials. In the early 60s he made his first coloured plaster objects which he put up for sale at his studio, The Store. As indicated by its name, this was a place with all the appearances of a shop and having a shop window; the artist's project was to muddle the codes which distinguish the art market from ordinary commerce.

His soft sculptures were shown to the public for the first time at the Green Gallery in New York in 1962. These are works which disrupt the scale and the substance of everyday objects, objects from the food industry - ice creams, hamburgers and fries - or accessories which incidentally furnish the modern home - plugs, telephones, wash basins. Subsequently, he extended these explorations by showing his objects in three versions: a hard version in painted wood, a soft version in cloth or vinyl, and a ghost version which is a colourless reproduction of the object, each of these states corresponding to the development of the material towards final entropy.

As a complement to this work on the transformation of the object, Oldenburg was engaged in projects for public monuments, which he developed in the 70s, working with his companion, the Dutch art historian Coosje van Bruggen. Using sketched designs, he put forward suggestions to people the urban landscape with ordinary objects enlarged to such a point that they provoke a grotesque visual effect, like the lipstick installed at Yale University 1969 or the half-buried bicycle recently done in Paris at the La Villette Park.

A website on Oldenburg 


Robert Rauschenberg
Port Arthur, Texas, 1925

Robert Rauschenberg, Oracle, 1962-1965
Sound environment
236 x 450 x 400 cm

Made in collaboration with the engineers Billy Klüver and Harold Hodges, Oracle is a five-piece interactive sculpture formed from an assemblage of salvage objects (car door, ventilation ducts, window...) belonging to the world of "everyday technology", with which is integrated a sophisticated system of radios capturing the various sounds emitted in the location where the work is shown. The radio sets were from the start connected to a console meant to be manipulated by visitors. Each of the five pieces, whose placing can vary depending upon the exhibition space, has a specific structure and mode of working.

Although akin to some of Tinguely's machines, this installation of machines living a life of their own and interrogating the relationship between Junk Culture* and technology is more tragic than playful in Rauschenberg's case.
Shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1965, this work also featured in an exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1968: The Machine as seen at the end of the Machine Age.

*Junk Art is an expression attributed by Lawrence Alloway, in the 1950s, to works, chiefly sculptures, made from salvage objects.


After studying pharmacy, and service in the American navy during the Second World War, Robert Rauschenberg began his art training at the Kansas City art Institute. In 1948 he visited Paris and enrolled as a student at the Académie Jullian. Back in the United States the following year, he entered the Black Mountain College, where he met, among others, the composer John Cage, with whom he was to collaborate regularly from 1951, and the choreographer Merce Cunningham.

In the mid 1950s, after a long trip to Europe, he made his first paintings integrating found objects, the Combine Paintings. A legacy of Schwitters, Cubist collages and Surrealist associations, these works bring together painted elements in the subjective style of the abstract expressionists and neutral elements introduced from the mass media.
It was because of this work that he won acclaim, and with him American art, by achieving first prize at the 1964 Venice Biennale.

In 1966, together with the electronic engineer Billy Klüver, he created Experiments in Art and Technology, an organisation whose purpose was to give guidance to artists exploring new technologies...
In parallel, he collaborated on the artistic projects of his friends John Cage and Merce Cunningham, regularly producing sets and costumes for their performances.


James Rosenquist
Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1933

Robert James Rosenquist, President Elect, 1960-1961
Triptych, oil on hardboard
228 x 366 cm

Rosenquist very quickly found his identity as an artist: huge formats, a style of painting with broad, supple brushstrokes, vivid colours, though almost always brightened with white, giving an effect of depth and ambiguity, an effect he also aims for in his brusque disrupting of scale, something learned from his past occupation as an industrial painter.

President Elect is one of his few works that are directly inspired by advertising posters. Kennedy was at the time an image of optimism for the United States, like the cake and the car, tangible signs of this new era of prosperity.
However, Rosenquist's originality was already apparent: a tripartate division of the surface, breaking the monotony of the image and allowing points of view and meanings to multiply, the undulating of light over the face of the President, grisaille for the hands which are grafted on like ghostly apparitions, in which some have seen the influence of Surrealism, denied by the artist himself.


While earning his living as an industrial painter, in 1953 Rosenquist began taking classes in traditional painting techniques at the University of Minnesota. He then spent 1955 at the Art Students League in New York, where he was disappointed by the teaching. During this period, to support himself he painted gigantic advertising images at Times Square, an apprenticeship which would be more useful to him than any of his academic training.

When he became friends with Rauschenberg and Johns, and with Ellsworth Kelly, he became definitively aware of his vocation as a painter. He began by making abstract pictures, but was dissatisfied with contemporary expressionist or minimalist tendencies, though he did keep certain stylistic characteristics of these, like the large format and the colours broken up with white, but he was drawn to figurative motifs typical of American society.

In 1962, with his first solo exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York, his subjects and technique alike provoked violent controversy, but all his paintings sold. From then on, although he always defended himself from any interpretation of his work that was too unilaterally pop, he participated in all the Pop Art events.

The website of James Rosenquist  


Andy Warhol
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, 1928 - New York, 1987

Andy Warhol, Ten Lizes, 1963
Oil and lacquer over silkscreen printing
201 x 564.5 cm

In 1963, when Warhol made this work, Elizabeth Taylor was at the centre of media attention. Her part in Joseph Mankiewicz's Cleopatra was hotly criticised, on the grounds that she was "too fat" and "overpaid", in the words of one critic coming out of what was then the most costly film in the history of cinema. Nonetheless, it was not a contemporary photograph that Warhol used in this work, but the shot probably commissioned by the Columbia Pictures studios to promote another film, Suddenly Last Summer, also directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, in 1959.

This photograph belonged to Warhol, along with some fifty other portraits of Liz Taylor. By making this image public, the artist was inviting a comparison with the actress's features before and after the viral pneumonia that had threatened to carry her off in 1961. The glamour portrait from 1959 proves that the photographic record had for once and all immortalised her at the height of her beauty; it was this that Warhol was reminding the public of in this work.

Here he uses the silkscreen process, which consists in the mechanical repetition of an image on fabric while reducing it to its essential outlines; stripped of its details, the form acquires a greater visual impact. Moreover this potential, this technique deriving from the advertising industry for which Warhol had worked, allows him to approach his ideal of objectivity, whereby perfection would be a matter of identical reproduction. This operation's effect would be to separate the image from the meanings attributed to it, preserving only its appearance, the pure image.
However, the multiplication of the portraits of "Liz" do not meet with the exactness of reproduction: no image is identical to any other.

With this work, Warhol is moving in the direction of film-making, which he was to embark upon in late 1963. From a painting composed on the model of a photogram representing the most emblematic actress in Hollywood, he moved to making experimental films which are like the dilation in time of an arrested image.


From an ordinary family of Slovak origin, Andrew Warhola began studying pictorial design in Pittsburg in 1945. After graduating in 1949, he moved to New York to work as an illustrator for magazines such as Vogue and The New Yorker. He also designed window displays for department stores and, in the course of this work, in 1960 he painted his first pictures of Popeye and Dick Tracy. But he discovered the following year that a painter exhibiting at the famous Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, had already appropriated these characters and brought them into the sphere of art. He then opted, in 1962, for other banal images of the consumer society, such as tins of Campbell's soup and Coca-Cola bottles, of which he created images using the silkscreen process.

When Marilyn Monroe died mysteriously in August 1962, he used shots of the now mythic face of the star, photographs that had been circulated in the press worldwide. It was at this point that he became one of the major artists of Pop Art. This fascination with the image of death, which he again expressed in his series on accidents and electric chairs, was not unconnected to his interest in mechanical reproduction, which is ultimately a matter of reducing the individual to his or her mere outward appearance.

In 1963, Warhol began surrounding himself with assistants at his studio, The Factory, thereby pushing the industrial character of his work to its extreme. He then became engaged in making films and, in the late 60s, organised multimedia performances with the rock group Velvet Underground.
In 1968, after being seriously injured by gunshot wounds at his studio, he terminated the experience of collective work and began his series of portraits of celebrities, such as Mick Jagger, Calvin Klein, Mao...
In the early 80s, he encouraged a new generation of New York artists, working for example with Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The website of the Andy Warhol Museum  in Pittsburg




The exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, organised by the critic Lawrence Alloway, who coined the term "Pop Art". The works on show incorporate elements of popular culture: images of Marilyn Monroe, publicity for the film Forbidden Planet...

Leo Castelli, who is to be one of the great promoters of Pop Art, opens his gallery in New York.

First solo exhibitions by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.

Andy Warhol does his first paintings based on cartoons: Dick Tracy, Superman, Popeye...

Rauschenberg's first solo show in Paris, at the Galerie Daniel Cordier.
Oldenburg opens The Store, a studio-shop where he shows objects in painted plaster and stages Happenings. The following year this will become the Ray Gun Theater.

Roy Lichtenstein shows his first works based on comic-strip frames, at the Leo Castelli Gallery.

Marilyn Monroe dies in August; her image appears in every newspaper and magazine. Andy Warhol begins working on the multiple portrait based on her effigy.

In October the Sydney Janis Gallery in New York puts on the show The New Realists, in which the European New Realist artists are presented as the partial precursors of an artistic project which flowers fully only with the Pop Art artists.

Ileana Sonnabend (the first wife of Leo Castelli) opens a gallery in Paris which will bring the American artists to Europe. She exhibits Johns in 1962, Rauschenberg in 1963 and Warhol in 1964.

In November, Warhol transforms a loft into a studio which he calls The Factory, a legendary place in pop culture, with its walls covered in aluminium foil. This is the meeting-place for all those involved in the New York underground scene. There, Warhol makes his first films, Eat and Kiss.

The Grand Jury Prize at the 34th Venice Biennale is awarded to Rauschenberg, a sign of the new ascendancy of American art over European art.

Warhol meets the band the Velvet Underground, produces them, designs record sleeves and puts on performances.

The Sydney Janis Gallery in New York puts on the show Homage to Marilyn Monroe, which brings together numerous American and European artists from the Pop Art fold.

Warhol is critically injured when the actress Valerie Solanas, the feminist founder of SCUM (the Society for Cutting up Men) shoots him several times with a revolver at The Factory.

A large-scale retrospective is devoted to Oldenburg's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Warhol designs the cover for the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album, an example of collaboration between the different spheres of pop culture.

Lawrence Alloway offers a global vision of Pop Art through the retrospective he devotes to it at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Pop Art is identified as a now concluded period in the history of art.

Exhibition Les années Pop: 1956-1968 (The Pop Years...), at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.




You can consult the French version of the Pop Art dossier

- extracts from reference texts: "Le développement du Pop Art anglais", Lawrence Alloway, 1966 (in Lucy R. Lippard, Le Pop Art, Paris, 1996); Andy Warhol, éditions Georges Pompidou, 1990
- a selective bibliography: essays on Pop Art, exhibition catalogues, texts by Andy Warhol.



To consult the other dossiers on the collections of the National Museum of Modern Art
In French
In English

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© Centre Pompidou, Direction de l'action éducative et des publics, April 2005
Mise à jour : août 2007
Development : Florence Morat
Documentation, Editing : Vanessa Morisset
Translated by Liz Heron
Graphic Design : Michel Fernandez, Aleth Vinchon
Coordination : Marie-José Rodriguez