Walker’s ‘International Pop’ Exhibit Goes Beyond Warhol

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“International Pop” goes way beyond the usual suspects. Even though pop art icons including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are represented in the Walker Art Center exhibit opening Saturday, the show takes a global approach to a world well-known for its American artists.

In fact, one of the biggest misconceptions of pop art, according to former Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander, who curated “International Pop” along with the Walker’s Bartholomew Ryan, is that it was solely an American phenomenon.

“It wasn’t,” said Alexander, who left the Walker earlier this year to become executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art in New York. “Artists from all over the globe were responding to new consumerist strategies. They were embracing figuration, they were looking at the media, they were exploring dissemination technologies like TV, magazines, radio, music, movies.

“There was a shared fascination with pop culture, which Americans had a huge influence over. Of course, the American identification with pop art had to be strong because pop culture was so strong here. But at the same time, other iterations of popular culture existed in very different micro cultures in these other parts of the world that were no less interesting. They were just very different.

“What we’re trying to do here is acknowledge the impact American popular culture had all around the world while saying that artists had their own very unique, authentic experiences of pop based on their local culture, as well.”

Alexander and Ryan turned to an international group of scholars to help them shape the exhibit.

“It takes a village,” Alexander said. “We had a lot of people involved in this process. We realized early on there needed to be multiple experts who were called upon to bring their knowledge of certain areas of the world to our conversation. We have a cadre of curatorial consultants with whom we’ve been working. It was a huge undertaking.”

What they came up with is a massive exhibit more than four years in the making. “International Pop” is made up of some 125 works from more than 13 countries. More than 100 artists are represented in the exhibit, which is organized by thematic sections (New Realism, The Image Travels and the Archive Shifts, Distribution and Domesticity, Pop and Politics, and Love and Despair) and contextual sections covering the pop art scenes in Britain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Japan.

After its Walker run, the exhibit will travel to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“People will be surprised by the absolute brilliance of so many of these works,” Ryan said. “They’re going to see works they are familiar with from U.S. pop artists that we all know and love and they’re going to see them in alliance with these other works from Argentina, Brazil, Japan or Italy. You can really get the sense of this much larger, broader community of people all fighting for expression within their specific realms all around the same time.”

He added: “It’s going to be a major exhibition in terms of revising how what people think they know about pop.”

Alexander describes the show as “fun and sexy.”

“This is great stuff — it’s funny, it’s witty, its timely, it’s bright and it’s really very positive,” she said. “You could say the work comes out of these different, more tumultuous, narratives and some pieces do, but, overall, the gesture of the show is one of incredible energy and exuberance. These young artists were getting out of their studies. They didn’t want anything to do with abstract expressionism, they didn’t want anything to do with this elitist view of art. They wanted to make powerful, visually declarative work that people could relate to. It was figurative, it was bright, it was full of images and it was current. And that’s pop. That’s what pop is.”

FIVE WORKS TO LOOK FOR

Co-curator Bartholomew Ryan picked five pieces to keep your eye on while exploring “International Pop.”

ERRO

“Foodscape” (1964)

“Here’s this gigantic painting by this Icelandic artist who basically got all these food magazines, cut them out and put them onto a big sheet of paper. It’s like one giant cornucopia of food painted onto a giant canvas. When you look at it, it’s like the living personification of greed and excess. It’s like taking this thing that’s supposed to be really appealing through advertising and emphasizing it so much that it becomes overwhelming.”

EVELYNE AXELL

“Ice Cream” (1964)

“It’s funny — it’s this woman licking an ice cream. Most representations of women by pop artists were objectifying them, like they were another commodity — an aspect of desire. And she does that too, but she pushes it to such an obvious extreme. It’s clear the ice cream is this phallic object. She’s overdoing it to the point it becomes laughable.”

WANDA PIMENTEL

“Untitled — Serie Envolvimento” (1967)

“Wanda Pimentel has two works in the show from a series called the ‘Involvement Series.’ They are these women glimpsed through doorways and they’re often in their bedroom. They’re interesting because in one sense they’re showing the female form somehow trapped and held in by these four walls. Then there’s this eroticism to how she depicts them. They’re very cinematic. There seems to be this feminist idea to them, but one that also embraces female eroticism and so on. They’re very mysterious and beautiful.”

ANTONIO HENRIQUE AMARAL

↤ “Homenagem sec. XX/XXI (20th/21st-Century Tribute)” (1967)

“He’s mashing this incredibly severe and over-the-top militarization that happened in Brazil with the U.S. He’s saying they’re both the same thing — this is supposed to be your Brazilian general, but he’s propped up or supported by the U.S.”

ROY LICHTENSTEIN

“Look Mickey” (1961)

“Lichtenstein is one of the four or five major U.S. pop artists. Around 1960-61, he started to look at comic books. He would take some image from a comic book and transfer it straight to painting but on a much larger scale. This is the first one he ever did that with. After this, he developed a famous style where if you look at a print comic you’ll see these Ben-Day dots. The way print works — these little dots that occur — there are thousands of them that make up the image. Anything else by him, you can see those print dots — it’s a painted print object. It’s very playful. This is just before he’s developed that technique. It’s his first comic book painting. It’s a very important work from that perspective. It’s one of the earliest works of pop.”

Amy Carlson Gustafson can be reached at 651-228-5561. Follow her at twitter.com/amygustafson.

IF YOU GO

What: “International Pop”

When: Opens Saturday, runs through Aug. 29

Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

Cost: $14, adults; $12, seniors; $9, students; free for 18 and under. Free on the first Saturday of the month and Thursday evenings.

Info: 612-375-7600 or walkerart.org

Walker After Hours Preview Party: 9 p.m.-midnight, Friday ($30)

“International Pop” Opening Day Talks on Saturday: Introduction to “International Pop,” 10:30 a.m.; “The Internationality of Pop,” 11:15 a.m.; “Argentine Pop and It’s Dematerialization,” 1:30 p.m.; “Tokyo Pop,” 3:30 p.m.

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