The World Goes Pop

The World Goes Pop. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015. 272 pp.).

When considering pop art, many scholars choose to focus on the movement’s influence in the United States and Europe; however, The World Goes Pop explores beyond these Eurocentric notions. The book offers a collection of essays written by multiple artists with the intention of analyzing pop in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. When writing these essays, the artists consider pop in the context of geography, culture and customs. Looking at the movement from a more global perspective allows the authors to compare and contrast themes in American and British pop art with those of the aforementioned “underdeveloped” countries. These themes range from commercialism, feminism, revolution and protest. Overall, The World Goes Pop succeeds in its ambitious rewriting of a Western-dominated narrative.

The book begins with an introductory essay written by Jessica Morgan which provides the reader with a basic understanding of the pop movement and its evolution. In her synopsis of pop art, Morgan asserts, “[T]he image or text, icon or logo denotes a real object but also stands as a simultaneous representation of a code”(15). She then writes, “Whether the code was complicit or critical has been the story of pop art’s reception and, in particular, that of its first generation of US-based artists” (15). Morgan acknowledges pop art’s American roots while also setting the stage for further exploration into international pop by explaining that this question of “the code” means different things in different contexts. For example, the movement’s commercial success and gallery-driven marketing limited the parameters of pop and oftentimes excluded female artists in the US. Because the pop style is a reaction to international commercial media, rather than specifically American enterprise, pop was able to expand globally, yet developed in relative isolation. Morgan calls upon readers to pay attention to pop’s global context and ends her essay by stating, “…pop’s varied past, particularly outside of Western canon, needs to be reassessed and its meaning as an agitator and disassembler recognized” (27).

The essays following Morgan’s examine pop art in the context of specific countries and themes. In David Crowley’s essay, “Pop Effects in Eastern Europe under Communist Rule,” explores the phenomenon of pop art’s spread in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Crowley notes that a number of Soviet critics objected to pop art and associated it with the “decadence” of the West (29). These commentators also feared mass culture and its effects on the Soviet Union. Although many Soviets opposed pop art, the works of artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg were fairly recognizable because of their reproduction in books and magazines. Occasionally, Easter Europeans had the opportunity to view these works first hand in touring shows facilitated by the United States. A specific artist mentioned by Crowley is Hungarian painter László Lakner, who was influenced by the works of Rauschenberg. Lakner experimented with doubling and fragmenting photographs in the 1960s and 70s. Eastern European confrontation of consumerism led to a heightened importance of ordinary Western goods, such as cosmetics and records, and triggered “fantasies about capitalist civilization” (33). In the context of the US and Britain, pop art had “critical and anti-authoritarian potential,” (37) yet in the Soviet Union, these works had the power to turn commercial goods into a matter of “fantasy and frustration” (33).

In the final essay of the book, titled Children of Marx and Coca-Cola: Pop in a Divided World, writer Sarah Wilson succinctly describes the movements many facets when considering both the “apex and turning point” of international pop following the 1967 Summer of Love. While the movement championed American consumerism, it also lauded Communism, Marxism and Maoism. Depending on the context, pop art could be decidedly anti-American. Wilson also questions why women in the pop movement seemed to receive such little recognition and attributes it to the military background of “hard” pop (119). Many artists such as Lichtenstein and Wassermann had done time in the army and whether this was an actual contribution to gender inequality, it certainly emphasizes pop’s political background. Wilson’s theory is certainly interesting and altogether each contributor provides a fairly thorough understanding of pop art and its socioeconomic subtleties. Regime changes, wars, and feminism all affected and contributed to pop art on a global scale and these authors do not shy away from describing the unheard voices of the movement. Because pop is so oftentimes associated with capitalist America and Europe, it is refreshing to read such a broad account of an art movement that spread across the world.

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