The World Goes Pop: The Tate Bubble Finally Bursts

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that when it comes to introducing children of any age to art in a family-friendly environment, Tate Modern embodies exactly what parents are looking for. Together with its awe-inspiring setting, the former Bankside Power station, it’s ability to present world-class art in an accessible, relaxed and inspiring space, make it a firm favourite. Yet it’s this consistent and effortless engagement of the family visitor, time after time, that makes their new opening The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop even more of a disappointment.

Going beyond the traditional British and American boundaries of pop art, this exhibition draws work from a wider geographical context, surfacing the lesser-known contributors during the 1960’s and 1970’s, from countries and cultures that could have had little or no influence from the movement at large. As a result, theme’s stretch beyond consumerism and into a  wider set of socio-political commentary, taking on social imbalances, role of women and war. It wasn’t, however,  the absence of pop art’s big-hitters that proved a let-down on my visit, it was the uninspiring layout and the feeling of anti climax which might fail to hold the attention of some visitors young or old.

Don’t get me wrong, things started very well. I was excited to enter to the glare of little-known Ushio Shinohara’s giant fluorescent collage Doll Festival, a comment of impact of Americanisation on Japanese culture and a leading piece from the marketing of the exhibition. There was endless detail to spot in Equipo Cronica’s Socialist Realism and Pop Art in the Battle Field, borrowing popular icons from Warhol and Lichtenstein as well as other treasures hidden in the jungle leaves. Jerzy Ryszard “Jurry” Zielinski’s Without Rebellion also proved unmissable, as a giant-tongued send up of censorship in Poland. You’ll also need to work hard to keep them away from fighter plane cum space rocket Machine No. 7, but will soon realise this was a happy problem to have as you move further through the galleries. 

Rather than thought provoking, the imposing collection of ethnographies by Eulalia Grau, sat alongside the monochrome prints of Joe Tilson, felt repetitive and drab so soon in the exhibition, and I questioned whether they deserved a whole room at this point in the journey. The Pop Politics section managed to provide more interesting comment on a serious topic, especially through the clever arrangement of Nitsche’s giant dictatorship fly swatter and Rafael’s Canogar’s cowering figure in The Punishment

As an art-loving women, wife and mother, I was expecting to feel much more grateful for the role of so many female pop artists included in the exhibition, but the arrangement of the work seemed to jar with me somehow. Erro’s intricate interiors showing the demise of the American dream didn’t feel right in the same room as so many family pieces, and the unusual Woman Sofa by Nicola L was indeed eye catching, but didn’t really feel like pop art at all.

The Beauty of pop art for younger viewers is its ability to reflect the every day, every objects and everyday life, yet this felt woefully under represented in the room dedicated to the Domestic Revolution. I had to wait until the closing stages of this gallery before being offered any really engaging perspective, such as Kiki Kogelnik’s latex representation of the body in a commoditised state and the brain-puzzling roles of women represented by Teresa Burgas clever installation; Cubes.

I soon came to realise, that it wasn’t highlights that were missing from this celebration of ‘Pop’ from a different world, but rather the order and structure by which it was presented made it feel more like ‘noise’ and less like something important to say. 

Things failed to improve with Zelibska’s entire gallery dedicated to her tantric Hindu interpretation of the lady garden, providing far too many uncomfortable opportunities for younger visitors to peer into awkwardly placed mirrors, changing the meaning of the piece altogether. Movement into the final galleries and large scale pieces such as Claudio Tozzi’s Multitude and Nicola L’s magnificent Red Coat, should have provided that ‘wow’ moment I was desperately after, but the clumsy construction prevented me from ever really feeling involved.

It is in fact this story of ebb and flow which, for me, meant that The World Goes Pop failed to provide a memorable journey through this era, and by the final room, instead of feeling exhilarated from having seen the unseen, I felt slightly indifferent and had completely lost interest. I wasn’t even sure how many visitors had even noticed the 3D glasses on offer to view the Shell piece by Glauco Rodrigues, glasses which also brought to life some of the wonders of the Post Art apocalyptic series and the Laughing Cow wallpaper.

To be clear, I am of the opinion that exhibitions don’t have to be interactive to hold any attention amongst younger visitors. In fact, only at the end of last year, myself and the girls nervously made our first visit to the Saatchi Gallery, a heavyweight art institution, with a serious and unwavering approach to presenting contemporary art. We were pleasantly surprised by Post Pop: East meets West, and its celebration of the pop art legacy. This visual feast didn’t need any kind of contrived interactivity and instead stuck to exactly what you want from a major exhibition; structure, storytelling, surprise and scale. In fact, it’s marathon exhibitions such as these which have spoiled us into always expecting to end on a high, rather than trudging to this ever so slightly limp finish. 

So if the unwavering popularity of Tate Modern proves too much and you find yourself drawn in by the rich colour of Shinohara’s headline piece, give yourself a moment to teach your kids some valuable lessons in life. Never rest on your laurels no matter how good you are at something, and you can’t be perfect all the time. Even if your name is Tate Modern.

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is on at Tate Modern until 24th January 2016
The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Level 3, Admission: Adults £16 (concessions £14), Children under 12 Free
10am-6pm Sun-Thur, 10am-10pm Fri & Sat

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