Andy Warhol, Walasse Ting and James Rosenquist: Pop Art Takes the Addison

“STOMACH SUNK IN WHISKY PEE INSIDE PANTS I SAW A LITTLE STAR WHERE IS MY BABY TONIGHT,” wrote Chinese-American poet and artist Walasse Ting on one page of his poetry book called “1¢ Life.” Accompanying Ting’s words is artwork by Tom Wesselmann showing a nude woman reclining on a bed in a room that has four large, white stars on vivid blue walls.

“1¢ Life” is a book of poetry with artwork from 28 different artists, including Wesselmann, that corresponded to Ting’s writing. The book was published in 1964 during the pop-art movement, when bold prints of commercial objects, witty, comic-style paintings and satirical photos of everyday objects dominated the art scene. Now, pop-art standouts, including “1¢ Life,” are being shown at the Addison Gallery of American Art in the exhibit “POP! Selections from the Collection.” All of the pieces in the show are part of the Addison’s permanent collection.

“Maybe about ten years ago, pop art was actually a hole in our collection. We had a few things, but it wasn’t large so we decided to make that a focus of ours in terms of adding pieces to the collection.,” said Alli Kemmerer, Scott Mead Curator of Photography and Curator of Art after 1950 for the Addison.

Several pieces by pop-art icon Andy Warhol are displayed in the exhibit, including “Electric Chair.” After the death penalty was outlawed in America, Warhol created a series of ten prints in 1971, one of which incorporated an image of a barren room with just one thing in it: an electric chair. Each print shows the bleak scene in a different color scheme, from vibrant orange, red and yellow to moody grey and pink. The juxtaposition between morbid subject matter and bright color combinations gives the piece a haunting tone.

Themes of revolution, upheaval, race and sexuality jump out from the graffiti art that makes up the “Loisaida: New York’s Lower East Side in the ’80s” exhibition in the Addison. Collected by John P. Axelrod ’64. The vividly colored multimedia pieces portray a time of diversion from cultural norms in the Lower East Side of New York.

The name “Loisaida” comes from the colloquial Puerto Rican-American pronunciation of the name of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The exhibition blends many different forms of artistic expression, including painting, collage, photography, poetry, film and performance art, all of which work together to challenge societally accepted norms and push the boundaries of what it means to be human.

“These young, disaffected artists, dubbed ‘radical bohemians’ by one critic, gathered in loose association with each other, brought together by a shared anxiety about the decay that surrounded them — the structural and societal decay of their urban environment, as well as the physical decay and ultimate death of colleagues, friends and lovers due to the AIDS epidemic — but thriving creatively in the dark, tough life of the Lower East Side,” said Kelley Tialiou, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant at the Addison.

The exhibition was connected to the graffiti art of Chris “Daze” Ellis, the Addison’s current Artist-in-Residence.

“Both Loisaida and graffiti have been lauded as quintessentially American genres of visual expression in their inspiration from and responses to the gritty life on the streets of New York City. Each pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable,” said Tialiou.