"International Pop" curators Darsie Alexander and Bartholomew Ryan with Italian artist Sergio Lombardo's silhouette painting of President John F. Kennedy. Star Tribune photo by Jim Gehrz
Walker Art Center's new "International Pop" show, running April 10 - August 29, is a sizzling, delectable feast that puts real meat on the bones of pop culture. The cheesy food metaphor is irresistible in an exhibition that opens with a gallery of wall-sized paintings of garish food and sculpture about eats and eating. But there's much more to this $1.5 million extravaganza than just a reprise of what Americans already think they know about Pop Art.
Curators Darsie Alexander and Bartholomew Ryan spent much of the past five years delving deep into the history and archives of Pop before assembing a carefully edited and provocative interpretation of that zesty cultural moment. Focused on the formative dates 1958 - 1972, the show is a dense, fast-paced melange of 175 paintings, sculpture, videos and installations by more than 100 artists from 20 countries, most of which haven't been seen here before and many of which stretch common notions of what Pop Art is.
Looking abroad, they discovered that American products, politics and personalities were everywhere, but that artists from Iceland to Argentina, Germany to Japan looked askance at the dominance of the American-way-of-life even as they embraced it. And so artists elsewhere gave Pop the flavor of their own cultures, slyly using Pop imagery and idioms to critique capitalism, war-mongering, dictatorships, and even to mock the hypersexualized cult of big-boobed blondes that pervaded movies and magazines of the day.
In 1964 Icelandic painter Erro, for example, produced a vast 6 ft. by 9 ft. "Foodscape" cluttered with American fast food and brands (look for the Jolly Green Giant, Heinz ketchup, etc.) while the French-born Venezuelan sculptor Marisol served painted tv dinners to the self-portrait figures in her 1963 "Dinner Date." By 1970, however, Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles was using Coca-Cola bottles as a distribution system for criticisms of his homeland's military dictatorship. Had the authorities noticed the messages he printed on his altered Coca-Cola bottles he'd have been jailed, but the popular pop sailed under the censor's radar. And now several of Meireles bottles are on view at the Walker, footnoted too, of course.
Every item in this color-saturated, complex show is rich with art, history and socio-political commentary. You can look at the art and videos, read the labels and footnotes, and groove on the memories. Or you can just stroll through and enjoy the moment. In either case, it's a fabulous exhibit.