Unexpected, stimulating and original: The latest Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition encloses more than 250 pop-influenced works made in the past 40 years. 110 artists from five different countries – UK, USA, China, Taiwan, and Russia – propose a huge variety of works that stress different ideologies from the same influence.
Post Pop: East meets West brings not only artists but also three curators to create and play with imagery. Constructing an interesting way to look at the pop art movement, the curators organised the show into six themes, rather than dividing the works by country, to highlight how the East and West are different but also similar in some aspects.
It begins with the theme Habitat. Starting with ordinary mass-produced artifacts, you suddenly stumble into the chaos created by the Russian artists Iliya & Emilia Kabakov. Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen (1989), composed by two paintings and fluttering pots and pans, reproduces a typical pop domestic space that leads us into another mad work by the duo: Unfinished Installation (1995). Reproducing an ordinary and real scene of unfinished building constructions, the artists want to underline how everyone is more interested in looking at things under construction rather than finished, in particular if we know the plan for the finished product.
Leaving the domestic habitat, the gallery next illustrates how advertising and consumerism influenced the post-war period. The typical American consumerist messages contrast with more politically engaged works by Russian and Chinese artists. Formed under Communist regimes, they surprisingly emphasize how their societies have been transformed by propaganda and marketing. These pop-inspired works are as colourful and powerful as is the line of blasphemy in the Ideology and Religion rooms.
A sense of confusion overcame me when I saw the installation by Sergey Shutov, Abacus (2001), where life-size women, knocking on the ground and covered in dark fabric, seem to move contemplating an unspecified religion. I proceeded ahead and my attention was captured by one of the most powerful works of the exhibition: Two Profiles (1989) by Leonid Sokov. It exemplifies perfectly the theme of contrast found throughout the gallery. The representation of a serious bronze Stalin’s profile next to a black and white photograph of a laughing Marilyn Monroe is the emblem of the exhibition, even if it lacks a significant characteristic of pop art: colour.
From there, the exhibition progresses through the Sex and the Body rooms. Taking into account that the majority of pop-artists have been young men, it is remarkable that sex and female bodies were a major topic of controversy in the pop art world in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, the curators leaned towards graphic images to tell the story of sex in the last half-century.
Walking to the top floor, you finally arrive at the heart of the exhibit. After a series of pictures, sculptures and works inspired by Andy Warhol, the section ends with Rostislav Lebedev’s A Dream Comes True (2008). As Sokov’s previously mentioned work, it is truly a painting where East meets West. The top half is a typical American pop painting style reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein‘s comic books, while the bottom depicts three bathers near the seaside in an unmistakably Russian style.
My journey through the exhibit ends in Mass Media, where the phenomenon of celebrity culture is portrayed. The variety of techniques found in these last works appears ambitious but effective. For instance, at the entrance you encounter a life-size female tennis player made entirely of wax by Oleg Kulik – a symbol of how mass media shows a version of reality.
Everything in the show is in contrast. The ability to create such proficient comparisons in style and ideologies in pop culture language is incredibly rare and the merit goes to curators. Even though I can’t say I liked everything, it is interesting to explore how a movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in Western countries has influenced the other side of the world in provocative and powerful ways over the years.
Post Pop: East meets West, Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London SW3 4RY. Phone: 02078113070.
Free admission. Open through 3 March.
(Pictures by Caterina Mirra)