A new exhibition on Pop Art has polarised art critics. The liberals cried that it’s “without taste” while conservatives branded it “bonkers”.
The purpose of the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition is to look at Pop Art’s influence around the world, including outside Western capitalism’s traditional heartlands.
It’s certainly impressive in scale, featuring 250 works of art by 110 artists from the 1970s to the present. We’re taken on a tour from New York through Moscow to Beijing.
This breadth can leave the exhibition feeling like a lash-up of
different bits of art. The work is certainly eclectic.
It won’t immediately make you think of artists such as Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol who pioneered Pop Art in the 1950s and ’60s.
There are some fairly pointless installations such as Paul McCarthy’s Spaghetti Man. But there are parts of the exhibition where the connections become more obvious.
The older works of art are far better.
What’s interesting is how artists in the former Soviet bloc used pop art to subvert the regimes’ official message. But this can be a double-edged—or even triple-edged—sword.
The print Malevich: Black Square by Russian expat artist Alexander Kosolapov is fantastically ironic.
It juxtaposes references to Kazimir Malevich, one of revolutionary Russia’s most groundbreaking artists, with images from advertising.
On the one hand, it takes aim at the sanitisation of Malevich by a regime that no longer represented the revolution. But Kosolapov’s work is riddled with contradictions, and he wrongly looked to the West as an alternative.
Kosolapov shot to fame in 1975 when he left Russia for New York.
His most famous work depicted revolutionary leader Lenin as a Coca Cola advert on a New York Times Square billboard.
Soviet dissident art wasn’t straighforward and had dubious politics.
But one of the points being drawn out was the parallels between US and Russian society and culture.
The other interesting work is by Russian duo Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. It features a burnt image of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup reproduction.
Komar and Melamid set up the “Sots Art”—Soviet Pop Art—movement in the late 1960s, as a reaction against the Communist Party-sanctioned “Socialist Realism”.
There’s an interesting story worth telling here. This exhibition doesn’t quite tell it, but is a way to start exploring it.
Saatchi Gallery, London SW3 4RY.
Until 23 February