Всматриваясь в 1960-е

В Saatchi Gallery открывается большая выставка Post Pop: East Meets West

Wed 26 November 2014 - Mon 23 February 2015 Saatchi Gallery, London SW3


American stars such as Warhol and Lichtenstein saw pop art as a celebration of consumer culture, says Ben Luke, but a forthcoming show of rarely seen work from the communist bloc revels in the dissident artists who gave it their own political spin.

When you think of pop art, the first things that come to mind are probably Andy Warhol's Marilyns and soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein's comic-book heroines, whaaams and varooms. Pop will forever be associated most with the US because, even though it arguably originated in Britain with Richard Hamilton, wherever it sprang up it was always in love with American culture.

Since its Sixties heyday, though, pop has become universal. Its legacy, the subject of Post Pop: East Meets West, a major show opening at the Saatchi Gallery at the end of this month, seems to have stretched to every corner of the world in which art is made. The exhibition is not from Charles Saatchi’s own collection but organised by the Tsukanov Family Foundation, an educational charity whose collection of Russian avant-garde art is at the core of this show. It focuses on pop-influenced work made over the past 40 years in the US, the UK, the former Soviet Union and China, with 256 works by more than 100 artists, a chance to compare and contrast pop’s influence in the West and the East.

Pop art’s effect on recent British and American art, from Jeff Koons’s  basketball sculptures to the direct pastiches of Warhol paintings by Gavin Turk, both of which feature in the show, is obvious and well trodden. But in communist and former communist countries, pop-inspired work is surprising. It differs greatly from its Western, capitalist cousin — it’s wonkier, less polished and its aims are often very different.

What links it all, though, is the artists’ attempt to capture everyday stuff around them. Before it became universally known as pop art, the new art of the late Fifties and early Sixties, influenced by advertising, humdrum household products and the mass media, was known as the New Realism. Artists who later adopted pop art in the Soviet Union or China were new realists too, except that everyday reality was dominated by glorious leaders, hammers and sickles and party propaganda.

Pop gave dissident artists in communist regimes a chance to fuse East and West. Marilyn Monroe appears in Leonid Sokov’s Two Profiles (Stalin and Marilyn), which features a solemn bronze profile of Stalin next to a photograph of the laughing Monroe. He  enjoyed turning Soviet symbols and images into what he called “fun items resembling popular toys”.

Everything about the work is a contrast — the liveliness of Marilyn and the dourness of Stalin; heavy metal next to light paper; the immediacy of the photograph next to the banality of Soviet-endorsed bronze. In another sculpture in the show, Sokov has replaced the sickle in the Soviet emblem with a dollar sign, another Warholian symbol. Yet his work looks utterly different to Warhol’s — although he used pop’s icons, he didn’t borrow the crucial ingredient: radiant colour.

Sokov was part of the Sots Art group, a cluster of Muscovites in the Soviet counterculture who crossed pop art with socialist realism to create political work. The best known of the Sots crowd in the West are the movement’s founders, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. They created a stir in 1974 with a work called Post Art, in which they reworked copies of famous pop art pieces, including Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can, which is included in this show.

It isn’t a clean copy — it’s charred, as if it has been salvaged from a fire. The duo presented it along with other exhibits that seemed to be relics of a destroyed civilisation. For Komar and Melamid, pop art was an emblem of American culture at the height of the Cold War when nuclear annihilation was a frighteningly real prospect.

Ai Weiwei, China’s best known artist, also makes references to pop art in his iconoclastic works. He uses a very 21st-century pop medium, social media, to disseminate it. In China the influence of pop art emerged in the Eighties and Weiwei, who spent time living in New York, was clearly inspired by Warhol. Sadly, this exhibition will not include his  ancient urns emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo — but instead there are historic vases adulterated with highly coloured synthetic paint.

Earlier works by Weiwei, also in this show, are darkly comic portraits of the then recently deceased Chairman Mao, pictures which reflect the artist’s political daring. Indeed, there is a whole strain of Chinese art using Mao’s image, and Yu Youhan’s paintings featuring Mao surrounded by pretty floral patterns show that they could be light-hearted too.

Like Sots Art, the Chinese movement known as Political Pop fuses American art with a state-approved language. In Great Criticism: Benetton (1992), Wang Guangyi uses the heroic imagery of Mao-era propaganda alongside logos and brand names, showing an apparent Chinese resistance to the influx of Western luxury goods.

Initially it looks like state-sponsored art, with heroic fists — one clutching what must be Mao’s Little Red Book — beating down on the Benetton logo. But as Wang has said, they reflect “how we were trained to think” rather than trumpeting a message. “The role of an artist is that of a social critic,” he said; the clash of ideologies in Great Criticism doesn’t make it clear which side he takes.

Other than the work of Weiwei and a few others, much of the non-Western exhibits here remain little known in London but it sheds light on the international allure of pop art. The Chinese and Russian works show that when Warhol said “pop art is for everyone” in 1966, he couldn’t have known how many artists across the globe would take him at his word.


Ben Luke,