This illuminating alternative history of Pop shows how little-known artists, from Latin America to the Soviet bloc, adapted the movement’s eye-catching, accessible language for their own ends.
Pop in the late 1950s was mainly confined to white, male U.K. and U.S. artists fascinated with consumer society and the American dream. A decade later, artists around the world were employing Pop’s bright colors and simplified forms to protest military juntas, the Cold War, gender inequality, Vietnam, and totalitarian repression.
Many of the 64 artists exhibited here considered themselves adherents of new realism or new figuration rather than Pop artists, regarding Pop as uncritical of capitalist culture. While not included in the show, iconic works by Lichtenstein and Warhol appear as appropriated elements in the Spanish art collective Equipo Crónica’s painting Social Realism and Pop Art in the Battlefield (1969), which pits them against Chinese Maoist workers in a jungle setting.
The exhibition’s ten rooms are loosely organized by theme. “Pop Politics” includes Marcello Nitsche’s giant suspended hand brandishing a flyswatter in allusion to Brazil’s military dictatorship. In “Pop at Home” Icelandic artist Erró’s paintings depict cartoon Viet Cong and Maoist troops massing outside American suburban homes, parodying U.S. anti-Communist propaganda.
“Pop Bodies” documents efforts by women artists like Kiki Kogelnik from Austria and Jana Želibská from Slovakia to reclaim representation of the female body. A highlight is Little TV Woman: I am the Last Woman Object (1969), an anthropomorphic TV cabinet in the form of a sex doll by French artist Nicola L.
Subversive, exhilarating, and witty, this show redefines Pop art’s parameters to redress its gender imbalance and Western focus, uniting artists across ideological and geographical boundaries. It’s rare for an exhibition on a familiar topic to say anything fresh. “The World Goes Pop” pulls it off.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 93.