Art Invades Popular Culture?

04/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over breakfast this week, the significant investment the new W in Hollywood has made in public art, which can be seen everywhere (Christian Moeller, Erwin Redl, Jennifer Steinkamp and Pae White), provoked a conversation I have all the time with my dear friend William Sherak about why Hollywood and the art world don't have a deeper relationship with each other. William, who is a film producer as well as a collector and patron, pointed out that the retrospective of Tim Burton has drawn big crowds and has been good for MoMA.

This made me think that, although interdisciplinary practice is the norm for many artists working today, there are very few who are able to cross boundaries in a way that is legible, or maybe there isn't a critical mass to focus lots of people on those magical moments. But the desire to participate in mass culture has been a concern to artists since the 60s.

Although he may not be a household name, Gary Panter, as his friend Matt Groening says, is a great example of an artist who has "succeeded in invading popular culture." A three-time Emmy Award-winner for his set for Pee-wee's Playhouse, he is responsible for designing the Screamers iconic 1970s poster, many record covers for Frank Zappa, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Residents and the ongoing comic character Jimbo. In an interview with artist Alex Israel when he was in L.A. recently he said, "When I started making underground comics, or doing light shows, or making music, I considered all of these practices to be a part of my painting. And I still do in a way. Painting, in theory, really informs everything that I do, but I'm really not that theoretical." Friends since 1978, long before Matt created The Simpsons, they used to "split burgers [at Astro Burger] and scheme about how we were going to invade pop culture."

I told William that we are just beginning to understand how the Internet is breaking down the invisible boundaries between these worlds, and that influence knows no boundaries. I believe that we can all learn something from cross disciplinary artists like Gary Panter, who Matt calls, "the nicest, sweetest guy I have ever met." Gary looks for moving and inspiring art experiences everywhere. "Duchamp made it so confusing to determine what's art and what's not, but you can really find it everywhere, even on the street." 

Matt and Mike Kelley, who says that Gary is "the most important graphic artist of his generation, that's my generation" pay tribute to Gary in the FYA video here.

Directed by Jesse Stagg and Alex Czetwertynski

All for art. Art for all