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Sweet nothings 

Pow! Roy Lichtenstein's brightly colored enlargement of a fight scene from a comic strip in Sweet Dreams Baby (1965) smacks you right in the face. But the impact is purely visual. Pop Art rarely offers much more than this kind of immediate thrill, but that is its greatest strength. Sometimes you just don't want to have to think.

            In 1957, the British Pop artist Richard Hamilton described the movement as "Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low cost, Mass produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business." The last of these became the credo of America's king of Pop, Andy Warhol, when, to the consternation of the art establishment, he declared himself "a business artist," and called his studio The Factory.

            The overtly commercial Campbell's Soup Can on Shopping Bag (1966) epitomizes this subversive sensibility and merits almost all the terms in Hamilton's definition. The paper bag, emblazoned with Warhol's 'corporate logo,' was produced in a large edition on a silkscreen press and, at only $12 each, quickly sold out. Many of those who bought them actually used them as practical fashion accessories until they wore out. Little did they suspect that one day a carefully preserved example would end up framed and matted on a museum wall.

            As the title suggests, Dimensions in Pop, at the Memorial Art Gallery through March 23, explores both two- and three-dimensional work from this period. The centerpiece of this engaging, one-room show is a display of the 1965 portfolio Seven Objects in a Box. Some of the best names in Pop --- Warhol, Wesselman, Segal, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Dine, and D'Arcangelo --- were each commissioned to create a small sculpture for this project. Packaged together in a miniature shipping crate, they were issued in an edition of 100 sets and aimed at the collector on a budget.

            For a movement that grew out of an era of instant gratification, what could be more appropriate than a ready-made art collection in a box? Just add water and stir! Various industrial techniques were employed to manufacture these objects at a low cost, but, despite their souvenir-like materials and dimensions, they remain worthy examples of each artist's style.

            Claus Oldenburg's contribution, Baked Potato, pays witty homage to the world of fast food. This actual-sized replica of a baked potato stuffed with cream cheese was cast in resin and carefully painted to resemble the popular snack. To complete the illusion, it is presented on a real china dish --- a deliciously absurd coda to an already wacky proposition.

            George Segal cocks a snoot at the artistic tradition of the reclining nude with his own acrylic-and-fiberglass rendition, Reclining Rooster. But the bird in question is clearly more dead than reclining. A similar sense of humor underlies Allan D'Arcangelo's Side View Mirror, but this time the butt of the joke is his own art. Known for his paintings of American roadscapes, he took a car's side-view mirror and replaced the glass with a view of an empty highway.

            Such frivolity is typical of this wave of artists, who came of age in the sheltered and prosperous environment of post-war America. But that is not to say Pop artists were incapable of tackling serious issues. Alexander Lemberskiy's Auschwitz Warns: Mona Lisa follows the Warholian format of high contrast photographic images printed in repeating grids, but these are no Marilyns. He chillingly juxtaposes 44 images of an emaciated woman at a Nazi death camp with the Mona Lisa.

            Rest assured, however, that this is the only picture in the whole show that will really make you stop and think. And that's the way we like it.

Dimensions in Pop continues through Sunday, March 23, at the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Avenue. Hours: Tuesday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $7 ($5 seniors and students, $2 patrons 6-18, $2 every Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.). 473-7720.

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