I have to say, I’ve never been sure about Pop Art; never been sure if my response to it is positive, negative or just plain indifferent. It’s a bit like any movement really, can any of us really say that they like x-ism or dislike y-ism in their entirety? No of course we can’t, all it really comes down to is saying how we feel generally.
Well generally, I’m pretty indifferent to Pop Art.
Some of it I respond to positively. It may be hackneyed but I’ve always like Whaam! – child of the 60s that I am…but then again I’m a bit ‘so what’ about the cover for Sgt Pepper (okay, I said it, sue me). Wasn’t sure about Andy Warhol until I saw an exhibition about his work at MOMA Oxford last year and felt more positively disposed. So when I got an opportunity to get to one of the last days of The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern I decided to give it a go; I thought an exhibition on Pop Art which wasn’t American would be interesting and maybe give me some new insights. I paid my entrance fee (discounted with my Art Pass, first time I got to use it) and ‘did’ the show…and ultimately found my opinion on Pop Art unchanged, I’m still not sold on it. There were a couple of, for me, stand out pieces which made going worth while. Cornel Brudascu’s Youth on the Building Yard, the timber and fabric newsprint of Joe Tilson, and Komar and Melamid‘s reworking of post-holocaust canonical American pop art impressed me a lot and made me want to look at more of their work.
But what I really found myself thinking was that it was all very 60s counter-culture, it’s a child of its time. Pop Art is, inseparable from the summer of love, Vietnam and throwing rocks at coppers. I don’t think it’s just the fact that for those of us who are children of the 60s the visual effect is just so there, it’s that the whole central idea of Pop Art means that it’s totally rooted in that period. Pop Art is about taking imagery from commercial art, graphic design and popular culture and making art with it…which means that it shrieks it’s time of creation. Adverts and popular culture have limited shelf-lives and the imagery is transient, very few things are timeless. The Tilson news paper pages (like this one) have to be from the 60s, not only because the photos say that but because the look of the page isn’t like newspaper pages today. The colour choices are those of 60’s commercial products. The idea of Pop Art too is of course only noteworthy for the 60s because it was new, nobody now would bat an eyelid about an artist incorporating commercial or news imagery in their work, it’s accepted, it’s what many artists do.
And that, I think, in a burst of introspection, is why I’m largely indifferent to Pop Art – because it’s embedded in the world which created it. I remember my sister (who was 16 years older) having loads of weird friends, and being into the Maharishi and TM, and I wonder to this day how much pot I may have passively smoked hanging around with them. I remember seeing the Grosvenor Square riots on tv and the news being full of Vietnam and Watergate. These are part of my memories of being 8 or 9. When I look at Pop Art I can see this time, but I can’t see anything relevant to any feeling beyond that time. Nothing which says that what I’m looking at says anything about what it is to be human, or which is bigger than me.
Nothing which moves me for good or ill beyond a sense of nostalgia.
Exhibition review on ArtsDesk