Pop Stars

The brushwork is so clean, the painting looks untouched by human hands, almost as if painted by a robot or other labor-saving mechanical device. Hyper-bright pinks and oranges lie over each other like overlapping windows on a divinely frozen PC screen. The work in question is Untitled (Wall of Sound) by abstract painter Philip Argent, part of the new exhibit "POPulence" at the Blaffer Gallery.

"A lot of the pop artists in the new show, people like Argent and L.C. Armstrong and Kim Squaglia, are actually painters in the classical sense," explains the show's curator, David Pagel, who works as an art history professor at Claremont Graduate University as well as a critic for the Los Angeles Times. "That would've been unthinkable in the '60s."

Early pop artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Ruscha concerned themselves with reproductions of mass-produced commercial objects, from soup-can labels to comic-strip panels. To thumb their noses at the "fine art" community, they'd take these objects out of context in the name of shock value or social commentary, often employing silk-screening and other technical processes.

But as evidenced by artists like Argent, things have changed. "Pop art isn't what it used to be," claims Pagel. "I mean, pop art as a movement is 45 years old," he says. "But critics just continue to portray it as this new, undeveloped type of art."

The show, which features 50 pieces by 19 contemporary artists -- many internationally known -- is colorful, vibrant and probably not anyone's idea of retro. Brain with Flowers by Fred Tomaselli resembles nothing so much as a swatch of particularly disturbing wallpaper, while Polly Apfelbaum's Love, Love Me Do is a giant piece of crushed velvet with childlike shapes cut into it. Other high-profile contributors include '80s kitsch-rebel sculptor Jeff Koons and Japanese computer graphics manipulator Chiho Aoshima. The whole show reminds you that art ain't real funky -- unless you've got that pop, baby.

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Scott Faingold