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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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.