Many think of Pop Art as a New York invention, but the iconoclastic movement has roots right here in Pasadena, which hosted Pop’s first-ever museum survey. New Painting of Common Objects was mounted in 1962 at the former Pasadena Art Museum, then housed in the Grace Nicholson mansion on North Los Robles Avenue. The show included eight artists, most of whom would become internationally famous — Jim Dine, Robert Dowd, Joe Goode, Phillip Hefferton, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud and Andy Warhol. It was curated by Walter Hopps, who had organized Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition on the West Coast the year before, at L.A.’s Ferus Gallery, which hopps co-founded. In 1963 Hopps staged another art world coup at the Pasadena museum with the Marcel Duchamp Retrospective, a salute to one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. The show helped to resurrect Duchamp’s then-moribund art career, which had been eclipsed by his dedication to chess.
Making use of PAM’s archives and collections, a new exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum, Duchamp to Pop, presents Duchamp as the godfather of the Pop Art movement. (The Pasadena Art Museum evolved into by the Norton Simon Museum in 1975.) Featured are some 40 artworks by Duchamp and some of the artists he inspired, including the eight from the New Painting exhibition. While the show includes works from the French-born artist’s 1963 retrospective, pieces acquired later will also be on display.
“The show is meant to illustrate Duchamp’s influence on Pop Art,” says Tom Norris, curatorial associate at the Norton Simon. Duchamp stoked controversy in the early 20th century by elevating common objects to works of art — notoriously putting a bottle dryer and a ceramic urinal on display and signing them. Bottle Dryer is in the Norton Simon show, a replica of the 1914 original he purchased in a Paris department store; it was a metal rack designed for placing empty, cleaned bottles to allow them to dry. He called this type of work a “readymade” and, in a 1953 interview, he said creating it allowed him to “reduce the idea of aesthetic consideration to the choice of the mind, not to the ability or cleverness of the hand.” That was a startlingly new definition of what constitutes art, a thread picked up and expanded by the Pops.
While most of the works by the other artists in the show are not readymades, they play off images of everyday objects intrinsic to Pop. There are several screenprints of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans — the ones with the unmistakable brand lettering in the red upper band, and the variety noted in the lower white band. There will be a stack of his Brillo Boxes, made of silkscreened wooden boxes, created for the Andy Warhol show that inaugurated the museum’s current Colorado Boulevard location in 1970. There’s a Robert Dowd painting of a $5 bill with some of the letters missing, and an Ed Ruscha painting of the logo for the cartoon strip “Annie,” recast as Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup with the letters looking as if poured from that sugary liquid. And Norris points to Wallace Berman’s Untitled collage from 1967, which shows a grid of hands holding images of people — baseball players, musicians, bicycle riders. “It draws on common culture, things we all recognize, and brings it to the art world,” he says.
Duchamp himself (1887–1968) was a naturalized American artist who didn’t care for art movement labels, although his juxtaposition of images and wordplay aligned him with Surrealism, and he is generally thought to be the father of Conceptual Art. His most famous works in the show include an “assisted readymade,” where he made a slight change to a still-recognizable object. It’s a small print of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, something you might see at the Louvre Bookstore — except Duchamp has drawn a jaunty mustache and goatee across her lips and chin. He was fond of such silly jokes, sometimes throwing sexual innuendo into the mix. Here it takes the form of the work’s title — L.H.O.Q.Q. which, when spoken aloud in French, sounds like “She has a hot ass” in that language.
In the early 1960s Joe Goode worked as an installer at the Pasadena Art Museum; he had a room in Walter Hopps’ house and paid for it partly by working there. He was happy to be included in the New Painting show and also to meet Marcel Duchamp when the artist was in town for his own show. Duchamp to Pop includes Goode’s 1962 lithograph Screwdriver. “That’s the first lithograph I ever did,” Goode says in a telephone interview. The L.A.–based artist, whose work is in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, is still actively making art and having shows (his next opens this spring at Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach). “I did that lithograph in homage to Jasper Johns, I knew of his work through pictures, from when I first got out of art school,” adds Goode, who attended Chouinard Art Institute in downtown L.A. for a year-and-a-half. Asked why he depicted a screwdriver, Goode says, “Don’t ask me, it was just something I was looking at.” He notes that “It’s a screwdriver screwing something in… that couldn’t be screwed in, so it was a bit Surrealism.” Does he think Duchamp influenced him? “I think so, but not in a direct or overt way,” he says. “It was mostly his attitude. It was a sense of freedom — that you could do anything you want. At this time Abstract Expressionists were very dominant in the art world; it was pretty difficult to get accepted doing anything else at the time, but we just kind of ignored it, and did what we wanted to do.”