Teen Intern Joyce Chen Reflects on Llyn Foulkes' "Pop"

  • "Pop" Llyn Foulkes 1989-1990"Pop" Llyn Foulkes 1989-1990

As a Teen Intern at the New Museum, I worked on each gallery floor in the museum and spent time with the exhibitions. This summer, I found Foulkes’ work intriguing. On my first day as a Gallery Guide on the second floor, one of the guards showed me his favorite piece on the floor. It was Foulkes’s painting "Pop," which featured Foulkes as a traumatized father glued to the television screen. The painting includes depictions his two children. His daughter is resting her hand on his shoulder as if comforting him, and his son is listening to a tape recorder. In the back of the room there is a calendar with the day of the Hiroshima bombing. The painting is kept in a pitch black room with music performed by the artist's children and written by Foulkes himself. The way the painting was framed by the environment and the room was fascinating.
For unknown reasons, I was proud of this painting. I wasn’t part of the process of it being executed, but I wanted everyone to see it, including my friends. My friends have never experienced art or even visited an art museum before, so this was a new world for them. I proudly guided them through the museum and introduced them to “Pop”. My friend immediately asked me what this was as she was confused about what was happening in the painting. I shared some information about the painting and the artist. My friends pointed out objects in the painting like the Superman t-shirt and the Diet Coke. They noticed the baseball and the book that Foulkes’ son was holding. The book read “I will be a square shooter; I will be a good American.” I was dumbfounded because I had never noticed these elements during the time I was guarding this piece. That was when I realized that all of the objects in the painting were symbols and iconic elements used to represent America.  It was how America looked through Foulkes’ eyes when he saw the destruction from the Hiroshima bombing on the television screen.
My friends interrupted my thoughts by saying, “Sorry, we don’t really understand this.” They turned their attention back to the painting and stared at it silently. As I watched my friends, I thought about why they wouldn’t set foot in a museum, because they would find everything difficult to relate to. On the other hand, they were giving all their attention to a painting that they didn’t understand. I stared at the painting in the dark-lit room, and I wondered if we needed to fully understand it. I decided that Foulkes’ painting is a wonderful work of art no matter what it means. When a piece of art receives mixed reactions, it’s doing something right.

Teen Intern Joyce Chen Reflects on Llyn Foulkes' "Pop"

The New Museum Teen Internship Program runs for six weeks each summer and offers work experience and exposure to contemporary art to local teens. In addition to artist-led workshops, trips, and career-development talks, teens get the chance to work alongside guards in the New Museum's galleries. While in the galleries this summer, intern Joyce Chen developed a deep connection to Llyn Foulkes' "Pop."