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The World Goes Pop as Tate Modern Bursts the Bubble on Western Pop Art

September 15, 2015

ArtsGroup ExhibitionMixed Media | by Harry Seymour


The Tate’s new offering is one of old works, but despite the walls of The World Goes Pop being filled with the art of the 60s and 70s, we are told that this is not a retrospective style offering, but a re-education of sorts.

Joan Rabascall, Atomic Kiss, 1968, Acrylic on canvas, 1620 x 970 mm, MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council Fund, Photo: Tony Coll, © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015
Joan Rabascall, Atomic Kiss, 1968, Acrylic on canvas, 1620 x 970 mm, MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council Fund, Photo: Tony Coll, © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Pop Art, with its borrowed stylings and images often plucked directly out of popular media, has its roots firmly planted in Western culture with Lichtenstein’s blonde comicstrip girls and Warhol’s tins of Campbell’s soup being iconic symbols of 60s Pop Art. As is historically common, the rest of the Art world remained squarely in the shadow of this Western behemoth of an Art movement.

Tate’s decision to focus on a global selection of Pop Artists, yet omit the big names synonymous with the movement, is a sign of the current shift toward artistic equality that has seen the value of ‘foreign’ art brought closer in line with that of the West in recent decades. While the Tate Modern is no stranger to foreign artists, this intentional anti-Anglo-American bias within an exhibition exploring a global art movement is a new move for Tate. Whether this is partially motivated by the need to shed the ‘play it safe’ image of the institutional gallery or just to play catch up with spaces like the Saatchi Gallery with its globally diverse range of exhibitions, is to some extent irrelevant. The collection of works, which includes artists from countries such as Croatia, Prague, Serbia, Slovakia, and over twice the number of Brazilian artists as the meagre three born in the US is a welcome change and according to Tate, not something that was possible in the era.

As a result, The World Goes Pop will turn everything you know, love, and hate about Pop Art on it’s head. Gone are the vapid portraits of style icons and branded products, replaced with pictorial doppelgängers that resemble their mainstream counterparts at first glance but reveal a darker, deeper subject matter.

Kiki Kogelnik , Bombs in Love, 1962, Kevin Ryan/Kiki Kogelnik Foundation Vienna/New York
Kiki Kogelnik , Bombs in Love, 1962, Kevin Ryan/Kiki Kogelnik Foundation Vienna/New York

‘Reacting to the market and media dominance of post-war America, Pop Art arose in many countries and communities as an overtly political, destabilising force. The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop will show how artists used this visual language to critique its capitalist origins while benefiting from its mass appeal and graphic power. The exhibition will include the Austrian Kiki Kogelnik’s anti-war sculpture Bombs in Love 1962, and the subverted commercial logos of Boris Bu?an in Croatia.’

A lot of the pieces in this exhibition haven’t been shown publicly before and we are told that a number of works had to be painstakingly tracked down and sought out as they were met with such disapproval and indifference at the time of their making. Ushio Shinohara, creator of Doll Festival, told crowds at the press viewing that there was no reaction at all to the art piece that is now the iconic image emblazoned across all of Tate’s advertising for the exhibition.

The show is also three-quarters made up of women, another landmark first as Tate tick a second minority box. To their credit, the exhibition doesn’t scream ‘minority’ and you could be forgiven for missing this entirely. What you won’t miss is a whole new world of Pop Art that was omitted from the textbooks. The importance of taking a contemporary look back at a movement rooted in a strongly bias culture can’t be overstated. Tate’s decision to pull Pop Art out of its original context and place it in a new juxtaposing one is a stroke of genius and gives an enlightening dimension to a fun and sensorily vibrant exhibition.

A collection of Pop Art’s outsiders and a nod toward the need to fill in the gaps in Art’s history, this is a must see for lovers of Pop Art and anyone looking for the depth in the two-dimensional imagery of this ‘popular’ 60s movement.

By Maxine Kirsty Sapsford

The World Goes Pop, at Tate Modern, from 17 September 2015 – 24 January 2016. For more information on the exhibition go to http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition-world-goes-pop