An Alternative History Of Pop Art

Pop art is a complicated movement. It can be seen as a critical analysis and celebration of consumerism while being blatant copying of the mundane, something both brilliant and absolutely fucking stupid. The irony is that this style has gone from being a parallel commentary on society to what society is now: Pop artworks now cover notebooks, are worn on t-shirts, and are even reproduced and sold for the purposes of decorating dorm rooms. It’s kind of gross.

Yet, that seems to be the American narrative we’ve been focused on—and there is a lot more to the story than just us. Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center is hosting a survey of international Pop art created during the period Pop art originated, thus telling a very different story to image appropriation and cultural commentary. The Times recently mapped the alternative to the movement with a wonderfully breezy story on the subject.

What’s so great about this story is the different points of views that arrive at the same, “Pop” conclusion: it’s not about imitating consumption or mirroring mass produced woes. This little bit sums up everything about International Pop quite nicely—

“I always protest when I’m accused of being Pop — it’s not my party,” said Antonio Dias, a Brazilian artist whose striking sculpture-painting amalgam in the show, “O Meu Retrato (My Portrait),” looks like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture on hallucinogens and was made in 1966, two years into the Brazilian military dictatorship that deeply shaped his work. “When I first saw American Pop,” Mr. Dias said in a recent interview, “I said ‘O.K., it’s nice, but it says nothing inside it. Its images are like any other images.’”

What’s also great about this exhibition is that it doesn’t only cover international territory but appears to also share Pop from different genders and experiences. The whole story is an example of looking at something—Say, a painting.—your entire life and never thinking to look at the other side of it, to see if there is anything else. Funny enough, that painting was double-sided with an even richer story. Perhaps this is a byproduct or American exceptionalism—or maybe we really did believe Pop was “our thing”? If you’re in the area, International Pop is on view through August 29. The Tate will also have a world focused Pop show starting in September, too.

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