Pop Life – Exhibition at the Tate Modern

If you’d asked me to explain what pop art was a two weeks ago, the most I would probably be able to muster would have been “something to do with Andy Warhol?” Also do note, I’m sure this is riddled with errors to do with dates, movements, titles etc, I’m only just learning about it all, so constructive comments very welcome!

I love my traditional art, love it. The National Gallery is my favourite in London and whilst abstraction is growing on me, paintings of things that look like what they are really appeal to me – the artist’s flair and expression being found in the brush strokes – and the skill required! Compare it to something like Tracy Emin’s bed and there’s no competition in my eyes, “traditional” art wins.

As an artist, designer and photographer, I’m always looking for inspiration. It seems wrong to shut out such a vibrant and talented world as modern art. I think that personal preference will always come back to the more “traditional” art, but the Pop Life exhibit at the Tate has helped the shift in my thinking somewhat.

Tate Modern Pop Life Ticket

What is pop art?

“Pop art is a visual art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist’s use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art. Pop removes the material from its context and isolates the object, or combines it with other objects, for contemplation. The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.” – Wikipedia

How I understand that, and correct me if I’m wrong, is the pop artists make art that is commercial or explores the boundaries between art and commerce. Context is vital. The goal isn’t necessarily to create something beautiful, but to create something controversial. It’s not about taste and the nature of the work allows for easy mass production.

The Exhibit

The exhibition itself featured both artists from the original movement and contemporaries featuring a similar style, and similarly commenting on society.

Just a brief review, should have written this sooner while it was still fresh in my mind!

You’re greeted with a Murakami giant anime figure and Koons’ silver rabbit. As someone who frequently features dolls and toys in her personal work I enjoy the idea of recreating the toys as something else (talking Koons here).

Murakami making “collectible ‘snack toys’ packaged with sweets or chewing gum – affordable to all” is all very well, but another comment on the problems with society? Where do these mass produced plastic toys end up when they’re inevitably thrown away? See my post about the Midway Albatross.

I actually found the Warhol “Gems” to be quite impressive, probably because I’m fond of sparkly things myself. The UV light was a bit of a head messer, but it wouldn’t be a Tate Modern exhibition without some weird light in it somewhere.

I loved the Pop Shop. The colours, the designs. So funky, though I’m sure that’s not the point. (The point being commercial, affordable art)

I hated Damien Hirst’s calf in formaldehyde. No animal should die for art, and I assume it’s real? It’s hooves were gold. I kind of get what he’s saying, but Damien, next time, use your words! I was however quite taken with his sparkly wall of gems, though I feel I should have read the card next to it to really understand it’s meaning. I was too busy magpying all over the shop.

Murakami is another one who really stuck out, probably the video of Kirsten Dunst dressed up like an anime character singing “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. A song which doesn’t mean that they are actually turning Japanese, but more turning into something they don’t expect, or then there is the rumoured meaning of “wanking”. So I’m not sure if that was part of the commentary. It was completely surreal though.

Why is pop art important?

Pop art as a movement is important because it is controversial. It asks questions, it dares to challenge you and it makes you THINK. These things are incredibly important to me as a young person and artist/designer still figuring out my place and what I think about things.

More Information

The T-shirt Competition on Threadless
The Tate Room Guide