by Kriston Capps
James Rosenquist, White Bread, 1964.
Tyler Green has got what has to be the definitive take on paintings of pieces of sliced bread. His reading of Rosenquist in particular is a smart, concise explanation of what it means to throw a patch of abstract painting into a Pop image and how Pop painters used commercial painting strategies to talk about painting.
On the other hand, Green’s take on the white bread itself — his narrative read of the works — strikes me as off the mark. He writes, “American consumerism is the bland leading the bland. Or covering it. Or the blandness is spreading.”
My feeling is that Wonder Bread would have been an irresistible draw for any Pop artist. Wonder Bread meant the future. The bread was nutritionally enhanced (and, indeed, helped to curb diseases like pellabra). Sliced bread was a reason to buy an electric toaster. And the greatest thing to happen to graphic design truly was sliced bread: The Wonder Bread logo, probably one of the greatest commercial designs ever, surely caught the eye of an artist like Roy Lichtenstein. The Wonder brand meant a consistent product, which to this day is the great advantage of brands. How else would you know what to get when you’re on the road?
All of these were awesome achievements and are hardly diminished by the cynical eye we cast on a product like Wonder Bread today. The Pop artists would have seen something like Wonder Bread as transformative, I would guess. In any case, their works aren’t significant because these guys got Slow Food right before the rest of America cottoned on–rather they matter because Pop artists surveyed the new environment simply as it occurred to them.