The World Goes Pop exhibition is filled with the overlooked and overcooked, the forgotten and forgettable. A corrective to the male-dominated canon of the movement, it is filled with feminist pop I believe that include Japanese, Spanish, eastern European, Brazilian and Argentinian pop, late pop, remade pop and things that aren’t really pop at all. European Pop Artists were far more political than their American or British counterparts. While Peter Blake basked in warm nostalgia and Andy Warhol anatomised bland celebrity, European artists attacked American militarism.
Having pop in the title and a prestigious venue might scream blockbuster. This isn’t. Mostly, it is a tour of minor art, footnotes and detours, much of it displayed on punch in the face coloured walls. The exhibition design boosts up the visual noise but doesn’t really do anything for the artwork presented.
If you were to expand the idea of pop art beyond its largely American and British origins, and see it as a series of parallel and sometimes antithetical responses to the worlds of commercial advertising, consumerism and state propaganda, pop can reel from complicity to social critique, celebration to damnation. The pop we already know did that anyway.
There are few big names here, except in quotation. In one of my more preferred pieces by Jerzy Ryszard “Jurry” Zieliński’s Without Rebellion (1970) from Russia, a big red tongue lolls from a canvas on to the floor, where it is hammered in place by a giant nail and In another painting, a smiling pair of lips is sealed shut with three Xs, this can be read as kisses or sutures, preventing free speech or any utterance at all. Using the manners of pop art, though there are artists here who never thought their work had anything to do with pop, or thought it was closer to French nouveau réalisme, to conceptual art, or allied itself to hippy-dippy album-cover nonsense in the name of artistic and social freedom.
Artists rail against the Vietnam war and American hegemony, equate lipstick and the terror of the bomb, and parody the repressive regime of the Brazilian generals as a papier-mache fist wielding a fly swatter that hovers over our heads. Splat. Artists embrace the idea of free love and solarised guitar heroes, recoil from the family, demonstrate on the streets, and make artworks of such sublime witlessness that they tip over into kitsch banality. The heady days of Paris 68, free love and the contraceptive pill are all here, signalled but not so much explored.
Going to this exhibition has given me a good view on how to address issues through artwork. Instead of telling people the issue why not show it to people through art and filmography.