The World Went Pop – and it’s Time We Listened
Whilst the Barbican’s recent retrospective seemed an authoritative survey of what we understand as pop, the Tate Modern’s new exhibition The World Goes Pop salutes its Western-centric focus… And runs away from it.
Tate Modern has masterfully moved far enough away from previous exhibitions to present an exciting and entirely fresh show. The World Goes Pop is providing perspectives previously not identified with the pop movement, and gives platform to voices that may have been oppressed due to wilful ignorance.
This exhibition moves beyond the celebration/commiseration of mass-production and consumerism that underpins our understanding of pop. We are introduced to a more ideological pop art. A worldwide pop art, which uses popular mediums to highlight social, economic and political issues.
As curator Jessica Morgan highlights:
“Many pops emerged simultaneously, and often imbued with an ambivalence, if not outright hostility, to the notion of American economic (and implicitly artistic) dominance.”
We are all familiar with the mass-produced images of advertising and American dreams. But here, we are forced to confront the manipulation of reality that created such picture perfect images. In acknowledging American’s influence, art has created methods in which to oppose the systems it represents.
Whilst traditional pop art (if that is now to be understood as a genre) features reproduced, cartoon-like images, the pop featured here offers a greater variety. There are more abstract explorations, as well as more figurative pieces.
One of the most effective pieces in demonstrating this is Rafael Canogar’s The Punishment (1969). A shady and indiscernible 2D outline raises a baton to strike a 3D figure on the floor. In its comic book simplicity, the power of the political context it dictates comes across twofold. The viewer is forced to consider more beyond the image; the power of persuasive images, and the impact of the media in disseminating ideas and news.
Whereas traditional pop focused on the perfect body, the Tate Modern offers a whole room celebrating the interiority of the bodied experience. In a time of female liberation, the freedom to explore and disseminate the experience of the body helps communicate how the ‘personal is political.’
Featuring some light-hearted paintings of breasts and noses hidden behind net curtains, a room of nudes with mirrors obscuring their sexual regions and abstract reinterpretations of boobs, the universality of the lived experience as woman is brought to the forefront in this space.
This remains no means less pertinent today, where photoshopped breasts in newspapers are considered more family-friendly than a mother breast-feeding in public. By distorting traditional, aesthetically pleasing depictions of women, these artists sought to defamiliarise the female nude in art. In doing so, they undermined the glorified housewife imagery bedecking every magazine, grocery store and billboard in the states.
Replacing pop art’s focus on image and person, worldwide pop hones in on power structures and perceived values. With a variety of Southern American, South East Asian and Eastern European art on display, we are given a stark and honest critique of Western values and the neo-colonialism of globalisation.
Whilst Lichtenstein glorified images of fighter planes and conflicts abroad, this exhibition critiques the interventions. A room is dedicated to the celebration of protest and communality, encouraging an embrace of the sameness mass-manufacturing has enabled.
Utilising the ‘copy and change’ ethos of pop, Cornel Brudaşcu offers an insight into a Romania recently reopened to international exchange. Utilising Western mediums in combination with communist ideology, Brudaşcu offers a celebration and a questioning of Western artistic depictions. This is further explored in a room dedicated to folk pop, a room that slightly haphazardly sits in the middle of the penultimate room and lacks the same cohesion of the rest of the exhibit – the only negative to an overall well-woven narrative.
Perhaps the most lingering impression of this show is the ways in which it has so drastically flipped the narrative of a Western understanding of pop. Overheard in the gallery, a child posed the question: “Mom, why was pop art all about war?”
The World Goes Pop has not only flipped our perspectives; it has given a platform to those voices that were previously unheard, whose views did not align with the mainstream dream. In challenging the consumerist celebrations of pop art, a discourse of critique and resistance has come to fruition. The world did indeed go pop, and it’s time we heard it.
The World Goes Pop is at the Tate Modern until 24th January with tickets starting at £12.70.