Post Pop: East Meets West – new frontiers for art-loving youngsters

True to the title of my chosen exhibition, as a descendent from a family of Eastenders, like a fish out of water, I decided to head West, crossing pre-Christmas London in a bid to not miss out on Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi Gallery.

Showcasing the best of contemporary art, and surfacing the work of unseen international artists, upon closer inspection, the Saatchi Gallery was most definitely my cup of tea, yet surprisingly, this was my first ever visit. Pre family it simply failed to appear on my radar, and now, with a location in a part of town that I hardly ever frequent, and with a young family to take along for the ride, the gallery held even less appeal. I am, however, very embarrassed that it took me so long.

Set in the picture-perfect Duke of York Square, in a striking Grade II listed building just off the Kings Road, the Saatchi Gallery really does hold a ‘wow’ factor for young visitors, before you even step inside its vast gallery space. It is also more accessible from other parts of London than you might assume, being only 15 minutes walk from Victoria rail station, providing a step free alternative to the more widely used Sloane Square. And if you make it there before the end of this year, young visitors will also spot a member of London’s popular Paddington Bear trail; the paint-covered Paws by Sally Hawkins.

Post Pop: East Meets West brings together 250 works by 110 artists from China, the former Soviet Union, Taiwan, the UK and the USA in an exhibition that celebrates Pop Art’s legacy. The exhibition is vast and varied, but is neatly arranged into a framework of six distinct themes, which hold the visitor’s attention for much longer than you would usually expect from an exhibition of this size. Each themed section is designed to reflect the influence that the Pop Art movement has had on artists from all over the world, regardless of their culture or societal norms.

Some highlights for families from each of the themed galleries are:

Habitat

The Toilet by Vladimir Kozin is one piece that reflect the way that we live and the environment that we shape for ourselves. As an installation it was a source of fascination for both my pre schooler and my potty training toddler. They raised a few giggles amongst other patrons by spending at least 10 minutes staring down it before asking whether they were allowed to sit on it.

Nature Making by Richard Woods is an observation on today’s hypocritical approach to creating ‘natural’ furniture, which involves destroying so many trees to satisfy the demand for low-cost ’flat-pack’ furniture. The message is brought to life in a giant room of spectacular decor that dwarfs little ones and makes them feel as if they have just stepped into the flat belonging to Charlie & Lola.

Advertising & Consumerism

Oh my cat? (Chechnya fighters) by Alexey Kalima is one of many pieces that reflect the synergy between the ideological power of advertising and that of propaganda. Set out in front the mock advert, is what appears to be a series of large precious stones on tall pillars. These form a maze-like exhibit which can be fun for smaller visitors to walk through, all the time under the watchful eye of the Chechnya fighter. If that isn’t incentive enough for them not to touch anything, then the idea that he’ll unleash his unfriendly looking cat should work as a back-up.

Nutsy’s McDonalds by Tom Sachs – Whether your little ones are familiar with this famous eating establishment or not, this exhibit was as exciting to be around as a life-size toy kitchen, where the kids enjoyed standing around the back pretending to serve things through the hatch to visiting adults. The piece itself is a fantastic comment on consumer society, where quite often the realisation of what goes into the final product can quite quickly remove all desire previously held to consume it. A great piece to relive  any memories you have of Fast Food Nation.

Ideology & Religion 

United Nations: Man and Space by Gu Wenda feels almost like an infinity room, complete with low lighting that shows off a space draped with national flags from across the world, all made of human hair collected from every destination. It is a magical piece to walk through but beware, it comes to an abrupt end with Die Harder by David Mach, a violent looking image of Jesus on the cross, covered from head to toe in thousands of antennae, representing the act of sending and receiving messages to and from the world.

Abacus by Russian artist Sergey Shutov is completely awe-inspiring. 20 life-size figures, draped in black robes and performing a prayer-like ritual dominate the gallery. Whether a representation of Islam or a worship of fellow Russian artwork placed opposite, I challenge any visitor to say with conviction that they believe them to be just mannequins. This piece will leave you all desperate to find out for certain.

Sex & the Body

For me, much of the content in the Sex & the Body section felt unsuitable, but we did catch a glimpse of Spaghetti Man by Paul McCarthy which left a lasting impression on my pre schooler. Google it.

We didn’t make it to the end section on Art History.

Wading past the excess of signs at the exhibition entrance asking visitors to attend to children at all times, i couldn’t help but wonder if I had done the right thing bringing two such young visitors into this space. Pop Art (and its eastern counterparts Sots Art and Political Pop presented here) really appeal to young audiences because of their reflection of every day objects and images of the world we live in. But with everyday objects, comes everyday behaviour and the desire to fully interact with everything involved.

For parents with younger children, therefore, this exhibition does come with a health warning, but if you have the energy to keep giving chase to your toddler, those with pre schoolers or older children will find it a rich and rewarding way to educate them on respecting and understanding the value of art. Pop Art: East Meets West is an immense exhibition that will appear exciting and familiar from the outset. In all honesty, it screams interaction, but with none of the featured exhibits allowing for this, the message is unwavering and clear. And what’s more, no interaction whatsoever is needed to enjoy this showcase. I might have sounded like a broken record to my toddler, but by discussing the feelings of my pre schooler when her younger sister destroys her block towers, or draws over her pictures, it didn’t take long for her to appreciate why it was so important to stand, stop and stare, but never touch. And me? Well for me it was a valuable opportunity to convey how to behave in a space as important as this. We were in West London after all.

Post Pop: East Meets West is at the Saatchi Gallery until 23rd February 2015. Admission Free.

Nearby: The Saatchi Gallery doesn’t really have a cafe to speak of, but the gorgeous Partridges Cafe, on the other side of the square serves hot drinks and food from 8am to 10pm daily (Christmas opening times apply). You might, however, wish to rush them past the enormous cake counter when you use the toilets.

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