POP ART: EAST MEETS WEST
26th November 2014 – 23rd February 2015
‘A Dream Comes True’ (2008) Rostislav Lebedev
The Saatchi gallery has produced a huge, single subject exhibition that grabs the attendee from the first view. Whether you like the pieces or not you cannot help but be amazed at the quantity (250 from 110 artists) on display, it took me over four hours to see and digest every exhibit.
So; what is ‘pop art’? What do you immediately think of when asked that? Yep, Andy Warhol and his ‘Campbell Soup’….maybe the swirly black and white images from the 60’s?? Hmmmmm…
To attempt to explain is far more complex than the accepted idea that it is a subject based, in part, on Dadaism, modern culture and political comment.
It has its roots in mid-fifties Britain and America later in that decade. The first artwork to carry the word ‘pop’ and use images out of context was Richard Hamilton’s collage in 1956 ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing’ (bit of a mouthful, I agree). In this he takes consumer items and perfect bodies and places them within a ‘modern’ home setting, a poke at the burgeoning consumerism taking place after the rationing and austerity of the second World War.
It’s fair to say that rebellion (in a sense) against some form of manipulation, either by commerce or political masters, is at the root of ‘pop-art’, a dissatisfaction at the move away from values important to the individual, generally through irony. OK, no more pontificating, on to the main course.
If you have ever visited the Saatchi gallery you will know it covers four floors and, apart from the commercial parts, this exhibition is on all of them. Let me say that this is not an easy flow to follow as the floors are split into rooms, the rooms then into subject matter and the subject matter overflows through other rooms/floors. See I did warn you…
The section determined as ‘Habitat’ takes normal everyday objects and re-contextualises them, makes them larger, from different materials etc. and is full of works that (honestly) left me cold, with a few notable exceptions.
Tsang KIN-WAH has a very interesting take on wallpaper; his repeat floral patterns are made up of (on closer inspection) a diatribe of expletives your grandmother would blush at. The work below is a prime example…thought provoking, to say the least.
‘Interior’ (2003) Tsang KIN-WAH
The cleverness of some of these artists is not in doubt, the subject matter taken and deconstructed and made ‘surreal’ almost.
Bill Woodrow takes this concept to the maximum degree in the piece following.
He literally takes every component of a vacuum cleaner and displays them all, laid out, in sculptural form. You may think this is obvious but why has nobody else done it? I like the thinking behind this, it’s superb!
Another subliminal take on this genre is by Rachel Whiteread, so subliminal in fact that you could miss it…
‘Switch’ (1994) Rachel Whiteread
This is actually on the wall, placed exactly where you would expect it to be and labelled some distance away. I found it humorous in the extreme and quite ironic that people didn’t realise at first.
Then comes the section on ‘Advertising and Consumerism’ which, I thought, would be more in keeping with the overall genre. It transpired that this was where the real ‘East meets West’ part of this gallery started. By virtue of their politics the Russians and Chinese input to this genre is delayed but nevertheless references ‘pop-art’ in its critique of the ‘must have’ society and mixes commercial images with propaganda and social comment.
A Russian pair Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid have a very tongue in cheek view of consumerism. In the work below the audacity and irony shine through.
The suggestion that these are objects that no home should be without is delightful in its idea, that people will buy anything given that the marketing is there. Alongside this poster was a selection of said items in white. Emphasising the premise…very clever without being too obscure.
Whilst Alexander Kosolapov mixes the traditional politico image of Lenin with the greatest symbol of imperialist America, Coca Cola. The fact that a rabid communist would endorse such a product is tinged with wishful thinking and unthinkable imagery pre ‘Perestroika’.
On the Chinese front things are very similar, propagandist imagery mixed with commercial trademarks, such as Wang Guangyi and his artwork below.
‘Great Criticism: Benetton’ (1992) Wang Guangyi
This section was much of a muchness, shame really as I was expecting far more radicalism from, what has been in both circumstances, a repressed people. The artists, I feel, have bowed a little too far to pop-art of the West without imposing their own identity on it.
In the section ‘Ideology and Religion’ a little more of the counterpoint between politics and commerce, here we have iconography thrown into the mix. Still leaning toward the obvious but more thought provoking than the painted/printed work.
‘Hero, Leader, God’ (2007) Alexander Kosolapov
The original sculpture was in bronze but I get more impact and verve from this red working of it. Kosolapov is obviously a talented artist and wants to highlight the indiscretions of his countries past; it still seems all a tad ‘watered down’ for me.
I was expecting more from the East, both Chinese and Russian have paid too much homage to the earlier works; an indication of this is in the ‘Art History’ section.
The works here are a direct nod to artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein, the reproductions (with twists) are shamelessly displayed. Even the innovative Komar and Melamid (sic) have taken this route with a series called ‘Post Art’ fragmented, singed depictions of previous artists work.
‘Post Art No.2’ (1973) Komar and Melamid
‘Post Art No.3’ (1973) Komar and Melamid
‘Post Art No.4’ (1973) Komar and Melamid
The first two of this series show a distinct reference to Warhol and Lichtenstein, they continue the theme by showing fragmented images of ‘Indiana’ and the US flag. Without doubt these artists from the East have been heavily influenced by the previous artists, to the point of imitation (not the sincerest form of flattery) and have not established themselves on this ‘brand’ as deeply as they could have.
There is another section in the display, ‘Sex and the Body’ and, to be quite honest, most of the work in here was stilted, as if the artists were timid in their approach and went for either the obscure or pornographic.
All save one, David Mach. His use of dye filled, empty HP sauce bottles (1666) was both imaginative and accomplished, the only artwork, in this section, I felt worthy of display and mention.
‘Undressed’ (2014) David Mach
This piece needs to be viewed from above (or as close as one can get in an exhibition) to see the full effect, it has a quality that was missing in others in this section.
In conclusion I always ask myself; ‘would I recommend this display?’
If you have an interest in art…yes.
If you have only an interest in art as accepted by the masses…no.
This would not be a good exhibition for someone wanting an introduction into this genre as it is too diverse and consuming, however, it’s free and central, so why not give it a bash. Pop along, spend a few hours and enjoy looking at the people looking at the art.