Hal Foster


On his book The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha

Cover Interview of November 20, 2011

In a nutshell

The First Pop Age takes up these matters above all: how Pop art folds painting and photography into one another; how, in doing so, it combines the effect of immediacy with the fact of mediation; how, in this combination, Pop might evoke artistic tradition even as it foregrounds contemporary culture; how, in this treatment of our image world, it strikes an ambiguous attitude, neither critical nor complicit strictly; and finally, how Pop indicates, through such ambiguity, not only a heightened confusion between publicity and privacy but also a deepened imbrication of image and subjectivity.

I focus my reflections on five artists—Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Ed Ruscha—because they evoke, more graphically than any others, the changed conditions of painting and viewer in the first age of Pop, which here I take to begin in the mid-to-late 1950s.

Stripped to its essentials, my thesis is this: a shift occurs during this time in the status of image and subjectivity alike, and the signal work of these five artists registers it most suggestively.