Sinister Pop at the Whitney; Exploring the Dark Side of Pop Art

Sinister Pop Whitney Christo Handtruck

You can't help but feel a little wary of the Whitney's big holiday-season show, Sinister Pop. Not because it sounds too spooky or anything, but the exhibition definitely has the whiff of a shameless attendance-grab. After all, pop art is pretty much a sure thing at museums these days (witness the mobs at the Met for Regarding Warhol).

It's easy way to put some of the big brand names in your permanent collection onto banners and billboards, and watch the tourist-dollars pour in. And if you add the vaguely racy allure of "sinister" into the equation, well, how could the art-loving masses resist? That said, and although some of this stuff is a bit tired (Warhol's nose job "Before and After", again?) Sinister Pop at the Whitney does mostly succeed on delivering the promised goods, including several terrific works which were new to us.   

Sinister Pop Whitney Joel Meyerowitz

The Masters of Pop Art

As the exhibition's name implies, Sinister Pop at the Whitney explores the darker side of this often sunny style of the 1960s and early '70s, with dozens of works that set out to deliberately disfigure or criticize the American dream. Pop art's big names are heavily represented here, from Warhol and Jasper Johns to Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, but there are also plenty of works by artists not usually associated with the movement, such as Peter Saul, William Eggleston, Christina Ramberg, and Joel Meyerowitz (above). We thought the inclusion of photography in the exhibition made for particularly compelling viewing. Here are a number of works by the likes of such masters as Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Ed Ruscha, and Weegee, usually taken of an unnervingly banal American landscape, adding a medium and a perspective not often seen in Pop art shows. 

Abstract Art at the Sinister Pop

The Whitney Museum Pop Art Pieces

There are certainly some pieces here at the Whitney's Sinister Pop exhibition which strike us as being neither of the above (Lucas Samaras's chair made flowers being the most obvious example), but there other inspired inclusions which more than make up for the few odd curatorial choices. Christo's Package on a Hand Truck (top), for example, exudes menace (albeit helped by the dramatic lighting), as does Milton Glaser's poster in support of migrant farmworkers, a skull made up of grapes above the Cesar Chavez quote: "We are men locked in a death struggle against man's inhumanity to man."  Equally intriguing is Ching ho Cheng's "Angelhead " (pictured above). A complementary video installation, Dark and Deadpan (pictured at bottom), shown in the adjacent gallery is worth a look as well, as some 20 screens, large and small, loop through a variety of appropriate 1960s cultural touchstones. 

Sinister Pop ashtry installation by Claes Oldenburg

See Sinister Pop at the Whitney

Sinister Pop will be on exhibit at the Whitney through March 31. The Whitney is located on Madison Avenue and 75th Street, and is open on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11:00 a.m.until 6:00 p.m., and on Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 at night. Closed Monday and Tuesday. The Whitney is pay-what-you-wish from 6:00 until 9:00 every Friday night. For more information about Sinister Pop and the Whitney, visit them online!

Sinister Pop Dark Deapan installation

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