Pop Life @ Tate Modern

7 December 2009

The Pop Life exhibition brought together a number of threads for me and made sense (after much pondering) of areas of art that had been hazy to me before. I think I would not be alone in wondering how we got from Picasso and Manet to Tracey Emin and Damien Hurst. This Exhibition gives you the links.

It covered a lot of artists over a considerable period of time. Koons and Murakami were picked out in the introductory room with Warhol as key figures; they embraced the commercial world and low or popular art. I think Warhol was a major force in this era should be see as the main figure and influence in this exhibition. The ideas and challenges that Warhol started, other artists such as Koons and Murakami took to a another level. Originally a commercial artist he became his own brand identity. He was a guru and inspiration to many young artists of the time.

There was a switch in attitude of artists, from being dependant on gallery owners and critical reviews, to taking charge of their own publicity, advertising, image and value. Selling their work and selling themselves. Stretching the concept of art from being defined by the select few (gallery owners, art dealers and critics)  to being far reaching, popular and for the general public.  One of the key themes was how the artists were challenging and poking fun at the conventional art world and the expected role of the artist. They pushed the boundaries and played with what could be considered art, how it could be promoted and what monetary value it could demamd.

Artists were creating their own celebrity fame and fortune. They exploited the media and used publicity to their own advantage by entering the commercial world.  Artists were taking on new roles. The artist as a brand identity/celebrity, the artists life as art. The artist as gallery owner/shop keeper, self publicist.  Not just art for arts sake but art to make money and gain celebrity.

Murakami explores all popular avenues as vessels of art from small plastic figures in bubble gum packs to large televised costumed events.

Koons wanted to achieve celebrity and utilised the media to this end. He used sensationalism to gain attention and notoriety. He explored love, sex and pornography in a variety of often kitsch style through his made in heaven collection. Koons’ “Made in Heaven” room I found most striking and shocking. Iona’s asshole which was staged as a pornographic photo hit me in the eye as I walked in, the rest of the room was in a similar vein and it made you wonder what he was really up to. I think Koons wanted to confuse and irritate the critics whilst courting media attention.

Art movements often take ideas and explore limits. It  could be argued the artist who sold a night of videoed sex to a gallery owner pushed the boundary of the idea beyond art. Although the concept of selling one’s art is akin to selling oneself and therefore prostitution in itself is an interesting one. Likewise Cosey Fanni Tutti who worked in the sex trade under cover to make an artistic statement was pushing the boundaries to a degree to which would be lost on most people.

The final room covered Tracey Emin and Damien Hurst and I felt that the really great thing about this exhibition was that it connected up the dots between Warhol and the present day.

Art is about ideas. Great art is about exploring those ideas to their limits.

Karla Black @ Modern Art Oxford

10th October 2009

After seeing this exhibition and listening to the talk about  the artist, I have since realised there are swathes of art history yet  undisclosed to me, such as installation and performance art. Here art becomes  a transitional show like a limited time stage play. It’s stimulating to experience the wow  of this art form, the illusions and the feelings provoked.

Karla Black’s work has a childlike glee to it. She makes references to childhood in her interview. One feels very much like touching the fragile sculptures and running through the peach plaster powder. The temptation is very great which provokes a thrill. You feel the artist must have had a fabulous time during it’s creation. In a way it’s like you’ve stumbled across the games of a giant child.

On entering the first room; large, naturally lit and with high ceilings,  your path is blocked by a sheet of cellophane suspended from the ceiling.  It is painted along one edge and slightly obscures the view of the rest of the room. I stood listening to the talk,  and later discovered this wasn’t the best view of the cellophane sculpture. As we returned back through the exhibition, seeing it at the opposite end of the room in juxtaposition to the peach powder floor, it was put in harmony with other sculptures in the room.

I adored the peach floor powder; it looked naughty, fun and so fragile a gust of wind would have blown it away. I didn’t initially appreciate that the aqua squares peeping out through  the powder had symbols painted on.  This felt like another layer of discovery. In one corner of the peach  floor powder a geological feature rose up like a minature crumbling plaster  powder table mountain.

Suspended almost over the stairway was a twisted chiffon fabric creation  which slightly caught draughts, adding to it’s delicate impression. The large sugar paper suspended sculpture at the end of the room was deeply pigmented with an aqua colour and had a very fine sparkling dust on it’s surface on close view.

The subsequent rooms had wall and floor sculptures of “gloopy” substances in cellophane or cling film. One looked like a yellow gelatinous duvet spread upon the floor. The talk culminated in a room of paper and card sculptures both suspended and standing on the floor.

Although initially apprehensive of the exhibition,  the visit combined an informative talk and a pleasantly surprising exhibition. Worthy of  a visit.

Exhibition details can be found at Modern Art Oxford