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Pop art ‘vanguards’ celebrated in new exhibit

The Pensacola Museum of Art is currently displaying the new exhibition “Vandals to Vanguards.” Populating the museum’s entire second floor, the exhibit showcases contemporary pieces from pop favorites like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg. Street artists such as Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, Shepard Fairey, and Jeremy Novy will also have work on display.

“Vandals to Vanguards” explores how several icons of modern art found success by rebelling against the prevailing art world and seeking a more democratic form of artistic expression. Beginning in the 1960s with pop art’s use of commonplace images from entertainment and advertising, the exhibition shows how generations of artists have recycled and remixed concepts and themes to advance and question the boundaries of art.

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"Andy Mouse" by Keith Haring

“Keith Haring's 1986 silkscreen ‘Andy Mouse’ really encapsulates the spirit of the exhibition,” said Anna Wall, chief curator at the Pensacola Museum of Art. “The print depicts an amalgamation of Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse, with Warhol's trademark silver wig splayed between the famous mouse ears. The piece captures Warhol as an American pop icon, standing in a pool of cash. Beyond the representation of the artist as a celebrity pop superstar, the print illustrates how Warhol, Haring, and other artists of the time worked together and learned from each other as they navigated this new art world they created.”

The pieces that will be on display reflect the artists’ concerns about creating more autonomous and accessible art. Warhol and other pop artists of the 1960s began using commercial processes like screen printing to create duplicate pieces quickly and easily. Subsequent generations have adopted these techniques to create artwork that reaches greater audiences through mass distribution.

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"Man Fur" by Jeremy Novy

There are approximately 45 pieces of art on display in the “Vandals to Vanguards” exhibition. Former Pensacola Museum of Art director Maria Goldberg dreamed up the exhibition with her friend and mentor, Lewis Bear, Jr., as a way to showcase some of the contemporary artwork being held in local collections.

“In the conversation between Lewis Bear, Jr. and Maria Goldberg featured in the exhibition catalog, Lewis talks about the many ways that current artists like Banksy and Mr. Brainwash continue to reference early pop art,” Wall said. “His collection illustrates how generations of artists have recycled and appropriated concepts and themes to continually advance and question the boundaries of fine art. The exhibition lets you see these intergenerational relationships up close.”

Iconic pieces, including Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe, appear throughout the gallery, remixed and reimagined over several decades. The works on display create a visual language that has become a part of our culture and continues to be referenced in new ways.

One artist with work exhibited in “Vandals to Vanguards” is Jeremy Novy, a stencil artist based in San Francisco known for his stencils of koi fish and efforts in queer visibility. Originally from Wisconsin, his stencil work started as a form of interventional street art aimed at fixing urban blight.

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Hunter Morrison
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"Einstein" by Mr. Brainwash

“I was living in the Midwest and saw that when industry left cities, boarded-up homes usually followed,” Novy said. “This loss would leave a huge eyesore on the area, leading to severe mental impacts on the residents. I felt a cartoonish stencil of a door and window could draw attention to this issue and could act as an escape from the dread.”

Novy says that while the city of Milwaukee only saw how punishment and negative reinforcement could address a problem, he saw how art could be an alternative pathway toward a solution. When he moved to San Francisco in 2008, he found an interest in queer visibility.

“I noticed the lack of diversity and representation in graffiti and street art culture,” Novy said. “I started to think more deeply about queer representation in street art and murals. Murals were about empowering a certain demographic - we have murals for immigrants, union workers, cities, counties, the disabled, and ones for different countries - but we did not have queer murals or even a rainbow crosswalk. I made it my mission to elevate queer visibility in protest, while also often talking publicly about this lack of representation.”

During the exhibition’s opening reception, Novy painted two six-foot large koi on the street outside of the museum. He hopes that it brings joy and inspiration to the community.

“I’ve done my best to help people find everyday beauty and joy on their sidewalks - if only for a moment when they find a koi stencil,” Novy said. “This is significant because who wants to litter or not pick up their pet’s poop after seeing art under their feet.”

Though “Vandals to Vanguards” is composed of works from several local lenders, contributions from Belle and Lewis Bear, Jr’s collection served as both the inspiration and primary source for the show.

“It is truly special to be able to highlight these connections through examples from local collections and shine a light on international movements through the rich cultural legacy of our own town,” Wall said. “I hope visitors have a new appreciation of how pop and street artists looked outside the traditional gallery system to create new forms of art that have become so mainstream that their images are an integral part of our popular culture and continue to influence artists today.”

“Vandals to Vanguards” will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of Art until January 8. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

For more information about hours or ticket prices, click here.

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Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.