To celebrate our forthcoming exhibition, Pop: Fame, Love and Power, at The Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai, we are taking a look at the twelve artists that created and defined American Pop as we know it today. There are artists whose visions sought to challenge boundaries between art and culture, marking the Pop Art decade as one of the most creative chapters in the history of 20th century art.  

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol with two of his Marilyn Monroe portraits at the Tate Gallery in 1971. Courtesy of the Tate.

Andy Warhol was fascinated by consumer culture, the media, and fame. Andy Warhol’s legendary factory also known as the “silver factory” was a volcano of 1960’s creativity. His factory was a hub for New Yorkers from all walks of life. Musicians, socialites, models, film stars and free thinkers came to unleash their creativity. Throughout his lifetime, the pop artist was enthralled by the aesthetics of celebrity culture and began to produce some of the most iconic portraits of the 20th century from Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton and Arethra Franklin. In 1975, the artist famously wrote “I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty”. Repetition was a key to Warhol’s work, the artist deliberately infused his work with a mechanical and impersonal character that intensified when he adopted his mass production silkscreen printing approach. The artist shed light on the power of mass media, using thought - provoking celebrity imagery seen on TV and from newspapers. Andy Warhol’s ‘Sixteen Jackies’, 1964 and ‘Forty Five Gold Marylins’ 1979, draw a spotlight on themes of tragedy and the spectacle of death, which recall some of the twentieth century’s most defining moments.

Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen in their studio with Standing Collar with Bow Tie (1992), 1992. Photo by Jesse Frohman. Courtesy Trunk Archive.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, one of the 20th century's most influential artist couples, are known for their monumental odes to the everyday. Over the course of their decades-long collaboration, the artists realised more than 40 large-scale public projects around the world, transforming familiar, seemingly mundane objects with character to pose questions about our perception of the world around us. Their collaborations draw a light on the powerful and beautiful creative journey of two artists who changed the history of art through their collaborative approach. 

Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha in his studio. Photo Kate Simon. Courtesy FAD Magazine.

Ed Ruscha’s career-long investigation of art and language has placed the artist at the forefront of the Pop Art movement. His works include text superimposed over theatrical mountains and landscapes, which are recreated with painstaking details, inspired by icons, signs and symbols in the twentieth Century’s cultural lexicon. In his oeuvre, Ruscha compositions cleverly causes doubt to his ambiguous titles as he plays with language using onomatopoeia, puns and contrasting meanings. Ruscha’s investigation and linguistic clichés of popular culture dismantle our accustomed ways of seeing, reinventing our sense of perception, making the meaning of his work deeply elusive and mysterious. 

Elaine Sturtevant 

Elaine Sturtevant, in front of her Warhol Flowers paintings at the Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt, September 2004. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Elaine Sturtevant was a master of appropriation who recreated works by iconic 20th century artists in order to explore themes surrounding authenticity, artistic celebrity, and the creative process. Calling her approach ‘repetition’, she began making exact copies of the works of her predecessors and contemporaries in 1964 from Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. Her renditions of Pop artists masterworks are imbued with additional layers of conceptual complexity, they force us to question how identification and authorship inform our perception of such iconic works of art. To read our full profile on Sturtevant, click here.

Keith Haring

Keith Haring at the Tony Shafrazi Opening in 1982. Courtesy of Tony Shafrazi.

Keith Haring was a prominent figure in the pop art movement during the 1980s, known for his bold, colourful artwork that often convey powerful messages. Haring’s dancing figures and radiant hearts evoke a sense of community and continuous joie de vivre. The artist re-energised the most universal and iconic symbols, which continues to inspire, as Haring once explained, “Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further”. 

James Rosenquist 

Portrait of James Rosenquist in front of Star Thief, 1980. Courtesy of Leo Castelli Gallery.

A pioneer in the Pop Art movement, James Rosenquist is best known for his colossal paintings of enigmatically juxtaposed fragmentary images taken from advertisements and popular culture. From 1957 to 1960, the artist worked as a billboard painter developing this technique into his own brand of “new realism”. Rosenquist’s seemingly unrelated pictures of consumer products and images are ambiguous in meaning but unexpectedly unified in composition, yet his work also hints at the artist's social, political and cultural concerns. 

Jim Dine 

Jim Dine Four Rooms (1962). Courtesy of the artist.

Throughout his career Jim Dine incorporated common objects into his work that were meaningful to his own life. Having undergone intensive psychoanalysis, during the mid 1960s his assemblages sought to represent different facets of the artist’s personality. His self-portraits are recognised for their unconventional techniques, at times incorporating garments or parts of them, and appliances of everyday life. Dine suggests that these commonplace object’s are important subjects for artistic study, by doing this, these items take on a new meaning and are elevated from the ordinary.

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg in his studio. Photograph by Burton Berinsky. Courtesy The New Yorker.

Throughout his career Robert Rauschenberg blurred the lines between painting and sculpture with an unorthodox choice of materials. His paintings and installations merge fabric collage, electrical components, and techniques such as solvent transfer photography. Rauschenberg further combined found objects into his work, redefining the line between scale and dimensional form. His experimental approach expands the traditional boundaries of art and creates a constant dialogue with the viewer. 

Robert Indiana 

Robert Indiana with his LOVE sculpture in Central Park, New York City (1971). Photo by Jack Mitchell. Courtesy Artnet.

Best known for his iconic LOVE series, Robert Indiana's graphic style and popular language greatly shaped the Pop art movement, and are imbued with political as well as autobiographical themes. Indiana’s use of non - art materials and incorporation of eye-catching words has become a recognised universal symbol. The popularity of many of Indiana’s sculptures demonstrates the artist's ability to blur fine art and popular culture to create icons of unity and inspiration. 

Roy Lichtenstein 

Roy Lichtenstein in his studio 190 Bowery New York, 1969. Photo by Lord Snowdon.

In the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein became a leading figure in the new Pop Art Movement. Inspired by advertisements and comic strips, he is known for his boldly coloured parodies of comic strips and advertisements from American popular culture. Lichtenstein’s work challenged the History of Art to create a new visual perception which incorporated his pop aesthetic, from commercial printing techniques such as ben - day dots, stripes and flat colours. Throughout his career, Lichtenstein was fascinated between oppositions of reality and artificiality, high art and mass culture, abstract and figuration as he sought to reveal their interrelationship and confront traditional notions of art. 

Tom Wesselmann  

Tom Wesselmann poses with Gina's Hand in the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York City in 1983. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Tom Wesselmann is considered as one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s, rejecting expressionism in favour of classical representation of nudes, still life and landscape.  Wesselmann gives a new intimacy to the traditional depiction of these subjects. He is best known for his Great American Nude Series, which depicts Wesselmann’s talent to capture sensuous form and intense colour. His ‘standing cutout pieces’ from the late 60s, play with scale to joyfully re-imagine still life painting to grand scale installations. Wesselmann's work engages in all our senses “to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art”.  

During a period of unprecedented change and mass consumerism these artists elevated popular culture into high art, redefining the traditional parameters of what constitutes art and what it means to be an artist. As Lichtenstein said, “Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.”