Post Pop: East Meets West (Saatchi Gallery)

Wang Guangyi, Great Criticism: Benetton (1992) Oil on canvas

Wang Guangyi, Great Criticism: Benetton (1992) Oil on canvas

The (re-) appropriation of Pop Art as an international movement is experiencing a resurgent moment. Until 3rd March, the Saatchi Gallery is presenting a major exhibition: ‘Post Pop: East Meets West’, exploring Pop art since the 1960s. This show gathers artists from around the globe whose artistic vision has been formed partly in response to the Pop aesthetic. The 256 works on display have been arranged thematically rather than by nation or chronologically. The first of these themes, ‘Habitat’, deals with domestic spaces and their associated content: for instance Ai Weiwei’s marble sculpture of an armchair. Notions of comfort are undermined by Ai’s unconventional choice of material, which introduces a sense of grandeur and an edge of humour. This contrasts with one of Rachel Whiteread’s signature negative-space plaster casts: here of a mattress; alluding to traces of human activity and evoking a sense of contemplation and loss.

Alexander Kosolapov - Hero, Leader, God, Painted resin (2007)

Alexander Kosolapov – Hero, Leader, God, Painted resin (2007)

The subsequent theme, ‘Advertising and Consumerism’, focuses on the rise of consumerism witnessed in America and Britain following years of wartime and post-war austerity, as artists readily appropriated identifiable imagery from mass media, commercial advertising and popular culture. For Chinese and Russian artists, the embrace of a market-led economy raises significant tensions between the binary poles of communist idealism and western materialism. In Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism: Benetton (1992), the tension between the potent legacy of socialist propaganda and the powerful allure of advertising is easily felt. He combines the Benetton logo with a group of heroic-looking proletarians, drawing on imagery associated with the Cultural Revolution. Other works include a row of Mao-Zedong themed arcade consoles by Feng Mengbo and a vitrine filled with floating basketballs by Jeff Koons.

Sergey Shutov - Abacus (2001) Installation, plastic, mannequins, motors, textile, video

Sergey Shutov – Abacus (2001) Installation, plastic, mannequins, motors, textile, video

From there, the exhibition progresses through such themes as ‘Celebrity and Mass Media’, ‘Art History’, ‘Religion and Ideology’ and ‘Sex and the Body’. Certain iconic figures recur throughout including Mao, Marilyn, Elvis, Lenin and Stalin. One of the most haunting pieces is an installation by Sergey Shutov of 12 shrouded figures ‘worshipping’ before large slices of bread, created in wood by a fellow Russian artist, Anatoly Osmolovsky. A further room is filled with Gu Wenda’s vast installation, ‘United Nations – Man and Space’, representing national flags made from human hair. Also worth noting is Andres Serrano’s infamous Piss Christ (1987), a photograph of a crucifix in what is purported to be the artist’s own urine.

Often deliberately shocking, ‘kitsch’ and utterly bizarre, ‘Post Pop’ left me wondering what Clement Greenberg would have to say about it all – personally, I’m very glad that I didn’t have to take any of it home with me! Bringing together art from around the world, this exhibition offers viewers a rare chance to make comparisons between the work of artists from fundamentally different cultures and ideological backgrounds. It will be interesting to compare this approach by the Saatchi Gallery to the upcoming take on the movement by the Tate: ‘The World Goes Pop’, coming to Bankside in autumn 2016 .

Clare Lamport is a third-year BA student at the Courtauld.

 Post Pop: East Meets West is at the Saatchi Gallery until 3 March 2015. Entry is free.




Richard Hamilton (Tate Modern)

 Richard Hamilton, Just what was it that made yesterday's homes so different, so appealing? (1992) © Richard Hamilton 2005. All rights reserved, DACS

Richard Hamilton, Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing? (1992)
© Richard Hamilton 2005. All rights reserved, DACS

British Pop Art has recently been showing a resurgence in popularity. As international audiences and auction houses have recognised the relatively untapped wealth of importance and value respectively, the predecessors to the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns and Rauschenberg have been granted greater exposure in shows such as ‘When Britain went Pop!’ and ‘Pop Art to Britart’. It seems only fitting then that, the so-called “father of pop art”, Richard Hamilton, has been given a major retrospective at the Tate Modern.

Hamilton was a prolific artist who experimented in various media, constantly revisiting, revising and reworking themes throughout his career. Reading the show’s introductory panel it is clear that these manifold manifestations of Hamilton’s art, from “paintings, prints, and polaroids alongside his exhibition designs and installations”, are all present. Installations are noticeably prominent. You enter through a reconstituted version of Hamilton’s 1951 show at the ICA Growth and Form, and the early highlight is Hamilton’s Fun House from the seminal ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition. It is in this space that Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? appears, somewhat shyly, its paltry dimensions dwarfed by the image of Charlton Heston’s Moses, taken from the film ‘The Ten Commandments’. The power of Hamilton’s installations is reconfirmed by Treatment Room, a deeply political work that depicts the late Margaret Thatcher in all her patronising glory, but also somewhat weakened by the discordant room given over to Hamilton’s copy of Duchamp’s The Large Glass. To me, Hamilton is strongest when he is at his most original, and thus the slavish admiration of Duchamp doesn’t appeal.

In comparison his works that appropriate items from the mass media are resonantly powerful. His use of Braun toasters, renamed ‘Brown’, are a good antidote for those sick with the seemingly omnipresent Campbell’s soup tins, and his Richard ash trays and bottles, made in the same font as the French liquor Ricard, are witty antecedents to Gavin Turk’s Turkeyfoil that I found so appealing at ‘Pop Art to Britart’.

To me, as a previous International Relations student, Hamilton’s political works are his strongest. Tony Blair as a gun slinging cowboy in Shock and Awe still remains a withering portrayal of a Prime Minister whose reputation is becoming more and more divisive with time. The slight smirk perfectly captures the character of Blair: self-assured, occasionally blurring into arrogance. Hamilton’s Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland from 1964, a spiky character-assassination of the former Labour leader, who was against unilateral nuclear disarmament, demonstrates his engagement with the political throughout his career.

Posthumous retrospectives are notoriously difficult to pull off. They lack the celebratory note of those given to artists at the end of their career and having them too close to the artist’s passing risks not fully understanding the importance and impact of their work. The Tate team have dealt with both these issues with typical mastery, delivering an exhibition fit for the standing of its subject.

Harry Laughland is an MA student at the Courtauld.

Richard Hamilton is at Tate Modern until the 26th May 2014.

Derek Boshier: From Doris to Chemical Coyboys

A Response

The reason for the sheer enjoyment I find in artists’ talks is that they take you away from your books and remind you about the reality of artwork in the context of the person who made it. Derek Boshier has delved into a huge variety of both ideas and working practises during his career and the presentation he gave to the Research Forum was a whirlwind whistle-stop tour of his life and work. He unfortunately had to begin by apologising for having to squeeze what was usually an hour and a half talk into a mere 45 minutes, certainly not long enough for me who thoroughly enjoyed all of his stories ‘From Doris to Chemical Cowboys’.

Speaking to the audience mainly using anecdotes, he highlighted some of the key themes of a career begun at a crucial point of transition for British art. Coming out of the Royal College in the 1960s (alongside Peter Blake and David Hockney), he insisted that impetus for their Pop Art was that they just wanted to paint the things they knew around them, the things that interested them. As he put it, not wine bottles and fruit, but films, music and sex. This freedom expanded into his subsequent multidisciplinary practise, which took as many forms imaginable, each with a very unique style.

It was his more atypical work that interested me the most. Of his image-based work, one of the projects Boshier discussed that particularly appealed to me is his 16 Situations (1971). This was an intervention into a series of photographs with a pair of repeated sculptural forms, playing with locations and scales from the micro to the macro (figs. 1 & 2).[1] They appear as a departure from the immediacy of his brightly coloured Pop painting style, yet I think they still communicate the continually present playfulness of his work. This was reinforced for me by his lively delivery style, which excited a sense of immediacy on each topic, regardless of which era he was discussing.

His description of a 1968 collaborative happening with Joe Tilson The Smith/Novak Event (fig. 3) had a sort of timelessness, and certainly would not seem out of place if enacted again today.[2] This took the form of a gesture of friendship between the two most common names in the London and Prague phonebooks, put into place through a workshop involving as many members of the public with those names who would take part. His comment on this work being that in the autumn of that year Soviets moved into Prague and as far as he knows most correspondence was halted.

Each slide is an artwork with a strong personal memory attached, meaning that each projected a strong personal perspective on social and cultural conditions, from what was showing at the cinema, to the state of feminism at the time. I would argue this was one of the most compelling artists’ talks I have attended and urge anyone to see him speak if you find an opportunity.

I would also like to encourage you to attend the series of artists’ talks and workshops organised by the East Wing X committee to compliment the Material Mattersexhibition, ‘Material Insights’. We are inviting artists to engage and discuss with us the materials in which they work. The first event is a talk delivered by Tom Hunter, whose Anchor and Hope is on display in Seminar Room 3. This will take place in SR3 on Monday 6th February at 6pm.

Fig 1: Derek Boshier, Situation 1 (from the ‘16 Situations’ series), photograph, 1971

Fig 1: Derek Boshier, Situation 1 (from the ‘16 Situations’ series), photograph, 1971

Fig 2: Derek Boshier, Situation 15 (from the ‘16 Situations’ series), photograph, 1971

Fig 2: Derek Boshier, Situation 15 (from the ‘16 Situations’ series), photograph, 1971

Fig. 3: Derek Boshier and Joe Tilson, Postcards from The Smith/Novak Event, photograph, 1968

Fig. 3: Derek Boshier and Joe Tilson, Postcards from The Smith/Novak Event, photograph, 1968