The new Pop stars
There is a whole lot more to the movement than men from the US and UK
By Julia Michalska. From Frieze daily edition
Published online: 17 October 2013
The master narrative that has defined Pop Art privileges US artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg. These artists appropriated the visual language of the American post-war economic boom: advertising, magazines, television, film and packaging, leaving the Greenbergian ideals of high art firmly behind. The movement was, in fact, born in the UK with the exhibition “This Is Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956, but by the 1960s, Pop Art had crossed the pond and US artists had decidedly stolen the show.
Now, a spate of exhibitions wants to challenge this version of history. “We have come to accept a particular story of Pop,” says Jessica Morgan, the curator of international art at Tate Modern, “and we are now asking people to rethink it.” Morgan is organising “The World Goes Pop”, an exhibition that aims to broaden the geographical scope of Pop Art, scheduled to open at Tate Modern in the autumn of 2015. The show will look at iterations of Pop in Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America and Asia. Around half of the artists included will be women. “Pop Art is the first global art movement,” she says. “[In this show] we aim to identify the cultural shifts around the world at that time that made it global. It’s not simply about expanding the canon but also about radically revising the definition of Pop.”
Critics were quick to establish the criteria and parameters of Pop: books such as John Rublowsky’s Pop Art, 1965, Mario Amaya’s Pop as Art, 1966, and Lucy Lippard’s Pop Art, 1966, concentrated almost exclusively on male US artists. These became reference books for art historians “who didn’t bother to question whether we should in fact accept these precise definitions of Pop”, Morgan says. Early Pop exhibitions focused predominantly on US artists, who were promoted at the same time by well-connected dealers and curators such as Leo Castelli, Walter Hopps and Lawrence Alloway. In the following decades, American exhibitions in particular continued to treat Pop as a predominantly US phenomenon.
The apparently superficial aspect of Pop, especially in its focus on ever-changing fashion, also contributed to its Americanisation by alienating serious art historians. Pop artists, such as Lichtenstein and Warhol, quickly became rich, unlike the artists of other movements, “who languished and struggled for many years”, Morgan says. This resulted in a certain disdain on the part of art historians, she says, who thought of Pop as something marketable and simplistic and perhaps not worthy of greater research.
At the same time, it is undeniable that the canonical Pop artists’ works fetch extremely high prices. Whenever artists and their movements are under revision, the market is never far away. Christie’s, the auction house headquartered in London, inaugurated its new exhibition space in Mayfair this month with a survey of British Pop Art (“When Britain Went Pop!”, until 24 November), in association with Waddington Custot Galleries. Although British artists were widely accepted to have laid the foundations of Pop—Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and David Hockney, among others, were major players in the movement—there has never been a major, home-grown British Pop show in the UK. In the introduction to the catalogue, Marco Livingstone, who organised the 2012 blockbuster exhibition on Hockney at the Royal Academy, even goes as far as to say that there “seemed to be something of a conspiracy on the part of the American art establishment to close ranks against those who contributed to the movement outside its borders”.
Darsie Alexander, the curator of “International Pop”, which opens in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center in 2015 and is due to travel to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016, sets out to present Pop as a “multi-directional phenomenon”. Alexander says: “Artists across the globe were responding in different ways to the radical changes in visual culture at the time. This depended very much on the socio-economic and political conditions of the countries. In New York there was post-war prosperity, [as] there was in Germany too, but it looked very different in Brazil or in Hungary.” The show explores specific versions of Pop around the world, such as the work produced at the Sogetsu Art Centre in Japan or by the Capitalist Realists in Düsseldorf, which included Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. It also examines how these ideas were disseminated internationally, looking specifically at the “agents” of Pop, such as Pierre Restany, Ileana Sonnabend and Konrad Fischer, who helped bring Pop works to a global audience.
The London-based commercial gallery Luxembourg & Dayan (FM, C9) is staging the UK’s first exhibition of Jerzy “Jurry” Zielinski (1943-80), a Polish artist who worked under the watchful eye of the Communist regime (until 14 December). Zielinski used the bright colours and iconography associated with Pop to secretly criticise the powers that be. Instead of American consumer culture, he turned to the iconography of the Communist propaganda around him. “Eastern European artists had a whole other lexicon of iconography that related to their life under the Communist regime and that had a big impact on their work as well,” says Alma Luxembourg, the co-director of the gallery. At Frieze Masters, the gallery’s stand is devoted to the exhibition “Pop not Pop”, which includes Zielinski’s Czyhanie Pocalunku (Lurking Kiss), 1969, on sale for €65,000.
For some, the net has not been cast wide enough. Wayne Tunnicliffe, the head of Australian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, says: “Global Pop shows seem to focus on the currently cool Eastern European, Japan, South America nexus, that does not extend to Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia for instance.” He hopes to remedy this with his forthcoming exhibition “Pop and Popism” (1 November 2014-8 February 2015), which explores Australian Pop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.
The dominant narrative of Pop Art also excluded women artists. “Women did make names for themselves, but they have been marginalised over time,” says Sue Tate, the curator of the UK’s first solo show of Pauline Boty (1938-66), one of the few women artists to be associated with the British Pop Art movement (“Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman”, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, until 16 November). “Women rocked the boat of Pop Art at a time when it was struggling for critical reception. Pop quickly became popular and sold well, but the critics were very doubtful. Because the source materials of Pop were very gendered (fashion, domestic products, interior design), women were inevitably more implicated.” She says that Pop has been criticised for objectifying women, so revisiting women artists will expand its scope. Boty’s work will also feature at the first ever exhibition on the dialogue between Pop artists and designers opening at the Barbican this month (“Pop Design”, 22 October-9 February 2014) as well as the survey show at Christie’s Mayfair.
The appearance of these seven exhibitions (and, undoubtedly more to come) in the space of three years indicates a massive shift in Pop identification: never again will it be an all-American male movement.
Non-US Pop exhibitions on now
When Britain Went Pop! Christie’s Mayfair, until 24 November
Christie’s opens its new gallery space in Mayfair with London’s first major survey of British Pop Art. The show traces the beginning of Pop in Britain through the pioneering work of the Independent Group in the 1950s and the Whitechapel Gallery’s “Young Contemporaries” exhibition in 1961, which was a turning point in the global Pop Art movement. Works by well-known Pop artists such as David Hockney, Richard Hamilton and Patrick Caulfield will be shown alongside rarely exhibited pieces by Pauline Boty, Jann Haworth, Gerald Laing and Joe Tilson. Some of the privately owned works will be for sale.
Jerzy “Jurry” Zielinski: Paintings, 1968-77, Luxembourg & Dayan, until 14 December
In the first solo exhibition of Jerzy “Jurry” Zielinski’s work in the UK, Luxembourg & Dayan present a series of pieces that show how the Polish artist mixed the iconography and colours of Pop with Communist propaganda. In 1960s Poland, Zielinski managed to avoid censorship while quietly criticising the authorities, although his mysterious death in 1980 has inspired a range of conspiracy theories. The exhibition, organised with Galeria Zderzak in Krakow, includes museum loans from Warsaw’s National Gallery of Art, but also a number of works for sale. Czyhanie Pocalunku (Lurking Kiss), 1969, is on sale for €65,000 at the gallery’s stand at Frieze Masters (FM, C9).
Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, until 16 November
Pauline Boty is one of the few female artists associated with the British Pop Art movement but she has not had a major exhibition until now. Starting at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and traveling to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester on 30 November, the exhibition features works from across her short career—she died of cancer aged just 28—including pieces that have not been shown for 40 years. Known as the “Wimbledon Bardot”, Boty studied at the Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College where she met David Hockney and Peter Blake. She exhibited with Blake in the 1961 show “Blake, Boty, Porter, Reeve” at the AIA Gallery.
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