I was moved to go to this exhibit with its promise that it would move beyond the mainstream artists we think of when we think of pop art, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Hamilton, working in the 1960s and 70s. I enjoy the work of these artists, but having seen them all before, I was intrigued to see more women exhibited, as well as those across the globe.
The literature on the exhibition states it ‘expands the notion of pop art into a far wider geographical context, showing how different cultures and countries contributed to the movement.’ With Warhol’s famous Campbell soup cans we had a critique of consumerism, yet the images shown at The World Goes Pop aim to challenge social imbalances, including the role of women and civil rights. Here, I will discuss some of my highlights from the exhibition.
Evelyne Axell: Valentine
This piece shows a silhouette of a woman, being unzipped in 3D, besides a space helmet, putting it in the context of the space race in 1955-1972. It makes a statement about the role of women at the time, as the first woman didn’t go into space until 1963, and even then they didn’t open their cosmonaut corps to women until 1978 in the US and 1980 in the USSR. The piece itself is a direct homage to Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman to fly in space.
The unzipping can be a reference to female sexual liberation, as well as the social liberation of taking up space in more arenas, including those beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This unzipping of the seductive pose, depicting an explicit femininity through its use of curves against the dark backdrop, in a new context, also links to the fact that it’s only recently that space suits have been made specifically designed for women (as in actually considering them as human beings, not by making them pink or some nonsense).
Eulàlia Grau: Vacuum Cleaner
As part of a series entitled Ethnography, Spanish Feminist artist Eulàlia Grau, shows a montage of a doll-like bride being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. This creates a mixture of humour and horror, as does the piece ‘Pànic’ where a large screaming face is revealed from the boot of a pink car. Ethnography is the study of people and cultures from the point of view of the subject being studied. In Vacuum Cleaner, Grau connects women’s role to domesticity and implies that the unequal and unpaid share of domestic work is taking away any sense of our being. Yet, it could also represent the taking away of patriarchal institutions such as marriage, and that this is symbolic of a removal from the power imbalances depicted here.
Mari Chordà: The Great Vagina
With this piece, we see Mari Chordà use typical pop art aesthetics (bright, bold, contrasting block colours) to create an image of a vagina. A Catalan artist, Chordà, completed this as part of a series untitled Vaginals, which were a personal investigation of the female body. We’re gradually moving away from biological essentialism, but cisgender women at the time, and arguably now, still find it important in the expression of a certain kind of womanhood.
Whilst we might acknowledge that things like vaginas, breasts and periods are linked to sexual liberation, it feels like we have been using these images in art, as well as phallic symbols of power, for a long time. What’s interesting is how, in the future, the messages of these images may change. The vagina is still a body part that faces much discrimination, and as we’re not yet in the stage where the complexities of sex and gender are fully understood by most people, this was, and arguably still remains, an important part of artistic engagement with the body. This work is, as the artist herself states, ‘testimony to a time of discovery and its radical stakes for women.’
Ulrike Ottinger: God of War
I bought a postcard of this one, as I like it for various reasons. Firstly, Ottinger would use car bonnets as her canvas, and I enjoyed the idea of her taking control over something traditionally masculine, and changing it into something else. It also combines he pop art aesthetic of a pinball machine, but also alludes to religious paintings. I love the use of complementary colours; with reds and greens, and purples and yellows. The variety of images clash and provoke political thought, as well as provide humour, where you can see influences of advertising and photojournalism within the piece. It relates to the Vietnam War and the political tension in France surrounding the mass strikes of 1968. As well as offering a visual commentary on consumerism, it connect the dots to war being played out as if it were a game.
The World Goes Pop can be seen at The Eyal Ofer Galleries at the Tate Modern, until 24th January 2016.