Paris Chaviaras explores ‘Popics’

In the succession of artistic movements in the development of 20th-century art, each period reacting to the before it, pop art has been one of the most cataclysmic. The vigor with which the movement embraced the ordinary, turning the most mundane, consumer aspects of life into art, brought about a radical break not only with the movements that preceded it but with an entire way of experiencing life. Like its short, playful but slightly irreverent name, the pop art movement was both light-hearted and profoundly subversive. But as the pop spirit expanded and popular culture became the prevalent lifestyle, something of its initial radicalism collapsed, ironically, under the very casualness that it upheld. Postmodernism, whose origin is generally traced to pop art (basically, the break with modernism), made everything seem possible, offering a sense of hopeful and anti-elitist freedom which, nonetheless, gradually obscured our visual judgment. In the line of descent from pop art to postmodernism, populism and mass culture, contemporary artists are often concerned with how these influences have shaped our perception and affected art. Popular culture’s impact on art is a constant theme in the work of artist Paris Chaviaras and the subject of «Popics» (an acronym for pop topics), his latest one-man show currently on view at the Artio Gallery. With typical witty irony, Chaviaras has painted images compounding elements of pop culture (pornographic images, advertisements and comics) and references to fine art, the most indicative being Duchamp’s fountain. In one work, he has placed a miniature of Duchamp’s iconic work together with Christmas ornaments. The kitsch of mass popular images and their infiltration into art is also brought up in a series of paintings, where soft pornographic images in comic-book style are delineated in gold against a black background sumptuously framed in wood. If blurring the lines between mass culture and art was an accomplishment when it was first pioneered in the ’60s, or an optimistic sign of openness and pluralism in post modernism, in the eyes of Paris Chaviaras, it seems more like a source of confusion and an urgent reason to speculate on the status of art, the role of the artist and our discernment as viewers. How reliant is contemporary art on the contrivances and witty twists of advertising and how discerning can our view remain in the midst of the surrounding visual surfeit? Does any contemporary artist stand a chance of producing art that will not eventually be absorbed by popular culture? How truly free is art’s range? These are some of the «pop topics» that Chaviaras raises with the uneasiness and skepticism of an artist questioning his own role in the process, but with enough humor to avoid intellectual pretensions.

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