Forty years ago Dada swept away the speculative pretensions of cubist painting. A short time afterwards the Surrealists opposed against the object-idea of Juan Gris, Villon or Delaunay, an interior vision which destroyed the consistency of the object as a thing and its coherence as a system of intellectual coordinates. Cubism has been an analysis of the object and at the same time, an attempt to show it in its totality, even in its hidden aspects. In one way or the other, as analytical or synthetic cubism, it was a criticism of the appearance. Surrealism destroyed the object and liberated the image; it was the violent emergence of the apparition: a new figuration- a real transfiguration. This process is being repeated now. Abstract painting had denied aesthetic reality- and even all reality- both to the appearances and to the apparitions. Pop-art has been the unexpected return of figuration, the aggressive and brutal coming back of reality as we see it every day in our cities, without passing through the filter of analysis. The two movements, Surrealism and Pop-art have been reactions of spontaneous and concrete vision against the absolutism of pictorial speculation: fantasy, humour, provocation, delirious realism. On the other hand, the differences between these two tendencies are no lesser than their resemblances. It can even be said that their similarity is external; more than a real identity, it is a historical and formal coincidence: they are twin moments in the history of modern sensibility always oscillating between the love for the abstract and the passion for the singular, between reflection and intuition. But Pop-art is not a total rebellion as Dada was, nor a movement of systematic subversion like Surrealism, with a program and its own internal discipline. It is an individual attitude, a response to a reality and not its criticism. Pop-art is not even an attitude: literally it is a point of view, a procedure. In fact, it is a branch which has grown, more or less independent, of the abstractionist tendency, as it can be seen in one of its best representatives: Vasarely.
The Pop-artist accepts the world of things in which we live and he is accepted by the society which possesses and uses those things. Neither denial nor separation: integration. In contrast to what happened with Dada and Surrealism, since its first moment, Pop-art was a tributary of the industrial current, a stream in the circulation system of objects. Its products are not a challenge to the museum as were those of Dada, nor a denial of the consumers’ aesthetics which defines our age: they are objects of consumption. Far from being a criticism of the market this art is one of its manifestations. Often its works are naïve sublimations of the shop windows and showcases of big stores. It is not strange: many of these artists initiated their work in the advertising and fashion industries. But, Pop-art is healthy. It returns to the instant vision of reality and, in its more intense expressions, to the vision of instant reality. How could we be so blind to the point of not seeing in certain works of Rauschenberg the poetry of modern life as it was defined by Apollinaire? The world of streets, machines, lights, and people- a world in which each colour is an exclamation and each form, a sign which emits opposing meanings. Pop-art has reinvented figure and this figure is the embodiment of our cities and our obsessions. At times, it has gone much beyond and has converted that urban mythology into blankness and interrogation: the art of Jasper Johns is that of the object pierced as a St. Sebastian by arrows. Those arrows are metaphysical…Now, these artists have given us back the figure but not the presence, the dummy and not the apparition. They have given us much but not enough: the modern world is the man or his ghost wandering between things and machines. In the works of these young people I miss something that Pound saw in a station of the Parisian subway- a vision projected in two lines:
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough”.
Translated by G. Aroul