Pop art in a material world
Pop Art was not dead with Andy Warhol: today’s contemporary artists perpetuate his legacy. This could summarise the current Pop Life exhibition at the Tate Modern, mixing pieces from Warhol with other artists who, just like him, integrated business as an inherent part of their work.
Commercial art tends to be criticised for not being ‘real’ enough, and many see the role of artists as outsiders of society. Warhol’s pop Marilyn has become so commodified as a symbol of kitsch that it stands in thousands of living rooms and Damien Hirst admittedly does not paint his dots himself. Yet, the former has become a cult icon worldwide, and the latter has managed the exploit of a record-breaking auction sale of over £111 millions in the midst of the 21st century’s economic crisis.
Described by Jeff Koons as ‘an overview of the different ways artists are engaged with the world today‘, the rich exhibition, curated by Alison Gingeras, takes inspiration in Warhol’s late – and very criticised work, mostly commissioned and sometimes discounted for ego-pseudo-celebrities. Films accompany the wallpaper-covered rooms and Gems paintings, representative of his obsession with wealth.
The exhibition then takes the visitor in the wake of Warhol’s work, with Jeff Koons’s candy porn sculptures, Takashi Murakami’s manga bling world, Keith Haring’s Pop Shop graffitis, Richard Prince’s celebrity culture obsessions and many more including Basquiat or Kippenberger.
And of course, the direct heirs of Warhol’s commercial art: the young British artists, with works including Tracey Emin’s debut show My Major Retrospective, and Damien Hirst’s cow in a gold plated aquarium, a cabinet of his full of diamonds, and his particularly entertaining 1992 performance of identical twins interacting with the audience under similar-looking dot paintings. Hirst defined the work itself: ‘Whatever colours you use, if you do the same arrangement from a distance, it sort of looks the same yet they’re uniquely different’, adding that he particularly wanted real people for his piece because ‘Art is like holding a mirror up to life, so it’s always good if you confront people with something real’.
No more doubt: art is a business, why pretend else? And not only for Pop Art. Art markets, fairs, sponsors, the steep prices and deals of artworks, along with the trends of corporate art and increasing numbers of collectors, make it more and more acceptable. But is that an issue?
This exceptional exhibition retraces and gathers works from major modern and contemporary artists that have never been together before. A MUST see. Tate Modern. Until 17 January 2010. £12.50. More information here.
Pictures: Jeff Koons’ Inflatable Rabbit and a Damien Hirst’ dot painting.