Are our personal actions a function of mass culture, or is mass culture derived from what we do?

Bernard Rancillac, Enfin silhouettes affinées jusqu’à la taille, 1966 | Musée de Grenoble. Purchased from the artist in 1980 © Bernard Rancillac / DACS 2015

‘The Art of Pop: Global Perspectives’- a talk at the Tate Modern.

Yugoslavian Pop Art in the 60s and 70s- Rebranded and re-idealised soviet propaganda?

Pop Art uses ‘mass culture’ to ‘create’ and is often colourful, bright and…kitschy – I guess today we could call them hipsters? And yet on one hand it described a 60s New York scene filled with flare, fun and money and on the other hand has been a method of social and political critique.

The first speaker, Lina Dzuverovic (PhD, Yugoslavian Pop Art) spoke about the ‘The Yugoslavian Difference’ which was a counter culture compared to the ‘bright’ scene. She compared large and glamorous Western Pop Art launch events, filled with champagne (socialists?) and celebrities and contrasted these with the famous ‘Bulldozer Exhibit’ in the Yugoslavia, where government forces used water cannons and bulldozers to cancel a dissident art exhibit.

Mainstream vs Counter

Yugoslavian Pop Art also addressed a ‘difference’ within its own post-Soviet context; increasingly ‘westernising’ with free trade and ideas, at the same time traditional Soviet views permeated society’s core. Women had ‘equal rights’ with wages and voting, but in the home they were either the ‘traditional wife’, or a sex symbol. A specific example that Dzuverovic provided was from an artist who produced a work called ‘Tinza’ which takes ‘pin-up girl’ imagery, but then gives these women voices that identify with ‘masculine’ traits to shatter and shame the social sexism.

Yugoslavian Difference

The counter culture Pop Art also critiques ‘consumerism’, whilst the minds of the Yugoslavian people flowed with consumer goods, the shops did not follow. Dzuverovic calls this the ‘Have vs Know’ and the ‘Desire vs Saturation’. Commentators have described a similar parable in the Yugoslavian Pop Art scene- sure traditional Pop Art was easy to imagine and enjoy, but did the underground counter culture provide a more accurate state of affairs?

Counter culture leverages a prevalent form of art to push its own agenda and I couldn’t help but think that Soviet era propaganda did a similar thing: imposing soviet imagery on popular images- was it by mimicking the enemy that the dissidents dissented?

On a descriptive note:
The final two speakers of the night displayed their works which supported the overall message that Dzuverovic initially presented. Sanja Ivekovic highlighted her famous work ‘A Double Life’, amongst others, where she contrasts pictures from a private collection of hers to that of modern media and adverts. In this she tries to inquire where causal links begin – are our personal actions a function of mass culture, or is mass culture derived from what we do?


Finally, Martha Rosler presented what could be thought of as the American face of counter culture Pop Art. her pictures compared the banality of what could be considered the ‘American Dream’, with the harsh reality of the Vietnam War. She contrasts the polished kitchen that any household would dream of, with a peak through the window showing the massacres of Dien Bien Phu.

It was interesting to note that whilst Ivekovic tried to bridge the gap between the Soviet Era and the ‘progressive’ Western Culture that the Yugoslavia was then trying to attain, Rosler contrasted the so called western culture to the same wars that the Soviet Union were the counter point to.

Author: Nilay Patel
The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is on at Tate Modern until 24 January. EY employees receive free access.