de Young 012. Picture

Mel Ramos (b. 1935)
Superman, 1962

Oil on canvas.

Mel Ramos's first Pop Art painting depicts Superman, one of America's most famous cultural icons. In 1962, this comic book character provided a popular culture antidote to the serious pretensions of contemporary art. Perceiving a link between the art of the past and that of the present, Ramos depicted his "comic book gods and goddesses" as counterparts to the ancient heroes and heroines of Greek mythology.

A larger-than-life figure from Ramos's childhood, Superman represented a Depression-era fantasy in which even an ordinary man such as Clark Kent could be transformer into a superhero. A 20th-centry equivalent of the 19th-century cowboy, Superman also seemed to embody America's belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil and its self-perceived role as the definer and defender of that good. By 1962, such moral certainties had been complicated by events such as the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

Photographed at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA.
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