Ranging from Jeff Koons’s floating basketballs to Ai Weiwei’s garishly painted Han vases, this show could have been faulted for taking an overly broad view of what constitutes Pop. Yet the exhibition demonstrated, fascinatingly, how Pop migrated post-Warhol to the Soviet Union and then to China, turning, as it did so, the cold light it once shone on mass consumerism onto authoritarian hero worship.
Alexander Kosolapov’s conceptual gambits such as Lenin and Coca-Cola (1982), in which a slogan for marketing soft drinks (“It’s the Real Thing”) is applied to a revolutionary leader, looks almost quaint now but in its day was genuinely provocative. Leonid Sokov’s pairing of Stalin and Marilyn Monroe in Two Profiles (1989) underscores Pop’s interest in the iconic image, an idea both supported and subverted in Feng Mengbo’s Taxi! Taxi! – Mao Zedong III (1994), in which Mao appears as a flickering video-game avatar.
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s installation Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen (1989) and Grisha Bruskin’s stainless-steel parodies of the Socialist-Realist everyman evoke the extraordinary achievements of Russian artists in the dying years of the Soviet Union, even if many had left by then. Their work, and this terrific show, made clear that Pop remains a movement for the ages.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 95.