“Bubblegum Chic” is one of the great works of Pop Art in the 21st century. In part this is due to its excellent construction by artist James Heeley, in part because it accomplishes the Pop Art mission with such skill. Pop Art is, more than any other aesthetic school, about humor, wit, and intelligence, often (always?) political intelligence. Richard Hamilton’s “Stage Proof 19” is searing because it immortalizes the [Leonard TK] Ellroy/ Quentin Tarantino gangster, an updated pop culture character in which Raymond Chandler “film noir” crime is brutally committed beneath Los Angeles palms. Then marketed by Random House and Hollywood.
Heeley has applied similar humor and intelligence to a quintessential pop culture object. Bubblegum is crass, wrapped in the cheapest wax paper and consumed for pennies by pimply teenagers. But it is also an olfactory triumph, a huge sugary scent profile—artificial banana, grape, lemon, menthol, mint thrown brilliantly together—filled with semiotic depth. To take this object, uncover its power and beauty, render it chic, and attach a (well-deserved) large price tag to it is ingenious. The work updates, elevates, and immortalizes, and Heeley is to bubblegum what Roy Lichtenstein is to cartoons.