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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Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is known as being one of the most influential figures in modern art. Although his career was rather short, Duchamp is known as the father of conceptual art and a figurehead in the American Dada movement. His early works are said to be heavily influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism.

Duchamp was raised in Normandy, France and studied art in Paris, where he became well acquainted with modern art movements. In 1912, he submitted his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris where it became the center of much controversy. Inspired by cubism and futurism, the work shows the motion of a nude figure walking down a staircase. The work was not rejected from the show but Duchamp was asked to either withdraw the painting or to paint over the title on the canvas. He refused and a year later submitted the painting to the Armory Show in New York City where the work was a success, yet still considered to be scandalous.

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Marcel Duchamp,  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

After his experiences surrounding Nude, Duchamp became disillusioned with what he called “retinal art”, or art that was simply made to be pleasing to the eye rather than the mind. Duchamp responded to retinal art with his readymades, which were “ordinary object[s] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”  In 1915, Duchamp moved to New York and soon became affiliated with New York Dada, which was considered to have a less serious tone than European Dada. In 1917, he created his most famous work and readymade, Fountain, which was simply a urinal that Duchamp had signed as “R. Mutt.” Duchamp submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit but it was ultimately rejected after much debate concerning that validity of the readymade as an art piece. After this rejection, Duchamp stepped down as the director of the board of the Society of Independent Artists.

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Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

For fear of repetition in his work, Duchamp created a fairly small number of pieces during his career; however, his impact has been long-lasting. While Duchamp was heavily involved with many Dada artists and influenced by modern movements such as cubism and futurism, he himself subscribed to no particular movement. His refusal to create “retinal art” along with his unconventional readymades have influenced artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenburg and movements ranging from Pop Art to Installation and Conceptual Art.

Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_-_self-portrait_with_physalis_-_google_art_projectSchiele, Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, 1912

Although the life of Egon Schiele was short lived, the number of works he created was quite prolific. Born in 1890 Austria, Schiele and his two sisters were raised by his father. His sister, Gertie, often modeled in the artist’s works. In school, Egon was encouraged to pursue formal training in the arts. After the death of his father in 1906, Schiele enrolled in the Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, where Schiele’s future mentor, Gustav Klimt, also studied.

A year after enrolling in the school, Egon sought out Klimt as a confidant who in turn introduced Klimt to patrons as well as the work of other artists. Klimt also introduced Schiele to the Wierner Werkstätte, a division of the Vienna Secession that focused on unifying the arts and crafts. Two years later, Schiele was one of many students to leave the Academy. After leaving, Schiele explored new methods of painting and began to veer from his mentor’s artistic influence.

Egon, along with the rest of the artists that chose to leave the academy, began frequently exhibiting their works. As these exhibitions progressed, Schiele’s work began to mature. Subjects that he often explored were sexuality and self-portraits. Many critics considered the young artist’s work to be crude and vulgar. During this time, Schiele often used nude adolescents as models. This practice eventually led to his 24-day imprisonment in 1912 after being accused of raping an underage girl, his girlfriend at the time. Schiele ceased to using children as models but this did not put a damper on his sexually explicit artwork.

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Egon Schiele – Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands, 1910/ Nude Self-Portrait in Grey with Open Mouth, 1910

In addition to its graphic nature, Schiele’s work often portrayed distorted contours and angular human figures. His self-portraits, which inwardly explored the artist’s own turmoil, were no exception. Egon is nude in many of his self-portraits and he poses himself in vulnerable positions. The self-reflective aspect of Schiele’s portraits is considered to be a precursor to Expressionism, a movement that explores emotional experiences rather than an external environment. Schiele’s work garnered more attention when he was invited to participate in the Vienna Secession’s Forty-Ninth Annual Exhibit in March of 1918. Unfortunately, his career ended abruptly in October of that year, when he died due to the Spanish Influenza. Schiele was only 28 at the time of his passing yet the art he created throughout his career proved him to be one of the most productive and innovative artists of his time.

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