Whitney explores art's 'big bang'

Things were certainly lively in New York art circles after World War II. First, the Abstract Expressionists rocked the boat of American art and then overturned it in favor of a newer and much more impetuous way of painting. Then, the Hard-Edge Painting school claimed dominance - until it in turn was challenged by others who insisted that abstraction in any form was no longer relevant.

But the 'big bang' was still to come. Before anyone knew what had happened, the American public was being told that Campbell soup cans, a broom or a hammer, or plain junk were art. Pop, Minimal, and Performance art, in short, had been born and were beginning to sweep the country and the world.

To document this event, the Whitney Museum here has assembled more than 100 paintings, sculptures, and other objects and put them all together in a show entitled ''Blam! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance: 1958-64.'' Included are paintings and sculptures by Johns and Rauschenberg; re-creations of two of Kaprow's found-object environments; reconstructions of Oldenburg's tableaux ''The Street'' and ''The Store''; the early Pop-Art of Lichtenstein, Segal, Dine, Rosenquist, Warhol, and Wesselmann; and the early Minimal art of Stella, Andre, Judd, Morris, Flavin, Brecht, and de Maria.

In addition, there are photographs, slides, posters, and artists' broadsides, as well as re-creations of sets of Happenings, by Grooms and Whitman. In all, it is a fascinating and valuable exhibition, although I suspect it will anger and annoy many who still cannot understand how a Campbell soup can could ever become the subject of serious art.

At the Whitney through Dec. 2.

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