How do you get your voice heard under an oppressive regime? Pop art as protest

The EY Exhibition : The World Goes Pop, Tate Modern

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop at the Tate Modern is an explosion of diversity. Pop Artists from around the globe – France, Czechoslovakia, Romania – emerge from the neon dots to form their own speech bubble: this is Pop Art you have never seen. Each room explored a different artist or element of pop art such as politics, the figure, and its relationship with crowds, the domestic space, folk art and consumerism.

The EY Exhibition : The World Goes Pop

On entering the exhibition, we enter the pop artist’s canvas. While I often feel that boldly coloured walls intervene and distract from the artwork, the bursts of tangerine, candy floss pink and sky blue immersed us in the pop palette and enhanced the work displayed to create a complete experience of pop art.

In the first room we were introduced to several themes of the exhibition: protest, feminism and capitalism. Shinohara Ushio’s ‘Doll Festival’ (1966), which has been used for the promotion of the
exhibition, seems to encompass all that the exhibition represents: layer upon layer of flamboyant clear plastic on screen printed canvas, a Western triptych of an Eastern multicultural festival.

Doll festival
Doll Festival (1966) Shinohara Ushio


Evelyne Axel’s ‘Valentine’ (1966) equates social and political freedom of women with sexual freedom, while Equipo Cronica’s ‘Socialist Realism and Pop Art in the Battlefield’ (1969) is an electric jungle fusing the realities of war with the realities of the everyday. This theme is further
explored in Bernard Rancillac’s ‘At Last, a Silhouette Slimmer to the Waist’ (1931). The painting can be hung either way and reflects on the bizarre position we find ourselves in when reading a magazine with articles reporting the monstrosities of war with a glossy full-page advertisement on the opposite page. The piece was similar to the series ‘House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home’ (1967-1972) by Martha Rosler, who combined images of the Vietnam War with advertisements showing off picture-perfect housewives, all taken from Life Magazine. This
juxtaposition exaggerated the horror of the war, inverting the adverts so that they became an advertisement for an indifference to war. She said of her work “I was looking for a way to express, in public fashion, my opposition to a war that seemed to be brought to us in the living room, on TV, and which posited a ‘here’ and a ‘there’”.

Pop Art was a product of modernity: consumerist, capitalist, empowered and concerned with masses. The phenomena of the anonymous crowd are bound up in modernity. Claudio Tozzi’s ‘Multitude’ (1968) explored the power of the individual. Just as many waves create an ocean, many
individuals create a revolution. His work refers to the opposition against the Brazilian military yet takes on a universal quality, fists raised in anguish as they did during Apartheid or during the American Civil Rights movements. Tozzi represents a crowd of action, as Edmund Burke wrote,

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Nicola L’s ‘Red Coat’ (1969) joins 11 people, each with their own coat and hood but tethered together from the waist. It began as a performance piece for her show at the Isle of Wight festival yet became a symbol for a single cohesive unit defying differences of gender, ethnicity or class.

Not only did Pop Artists often explore the crowd in their work, Pop Art defined itself by its ability to become a crowd. Its reproducibility acted as a criticism of elitist ‘high’ art. Andy Warhol had a factory rather than a studio, screen printing enabling his numerous commissions and art business.

This very quality of Pop Art allowed it to grow from its foundations in Britain and America in the 1950s and extend throughout Europe into the 1960s and 1970s. The fusion of folk art with pop art was explored in the work of Beatriz González and Parviz Tanavoli. The shadow of the embellished umbrella in ‘The Last Table’ (1970) gave a further dimension to the work, which is a reinterpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ (1495-1498).

The influence of Warhol was seen most obviously in the final room exploring consumerism. Layered on the laughing cow wallpaper by Thomas Bayrle literally surrounding us with inescapable advertising, was Boris Bucan’s ‘Art: (according to Marlboro) series (1947). By replacing logos of recognisable companies such as BMW, Pepsi, and Coca Cola, Bucan questions the identity of advertising and art. Is advertising art? Or is art advertising?

The exhibition continues until 24th January 2016 and I would encourage everyone to explore this new World of Pop.

Written by guest blogger Charlotte Lorimer (Durham University).

One thought on “How do you get your voice heard under an oppressive regime? Pop art as protest

Comments are closed.