Tate Modern’s Pop Life: Art in the Material World from London Posted on January 19th, 2010 by

Upon arriving at the Tate Modern, a museum of international and modern art, the only visible colors from the outside of the building were the blue and pink neon words Pop Life. This small taste of color foreshadowed what the exhibition Pop Life: Art in the Material World contained. This exhibition, seen by our group, was part of five floors filled by modern artwork with famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.  The Tate Modern is situated on London’s South Bank and is part of four main galleries located across the United Kingdom. These four museums include British artwork from the year 1500 and onward. The other galleries are Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives. However, the Tate Modern focuses on artwork since the 1900’s.  The founding of the Tate Modern was in 2000 and its displays cover four wings. The museum is highly noted for the amount of artwork it has from the 1980’s to the present.

The exhibition Pop Life: Art in the Material World was part of that renowned artwork dating from the 1980’s onward. This exhibition showed until January 17th, 2010 and was split up into nearly 20 rooms. It was not free like the rest of the museum, but it was well worth the price. These rooms varied from housing a single work in a room to hundreds in others. The first doorway led to a quote from Andy Warhol stating, “Good business is the best art.” This sets up the theme of the whole exhibition, being that of mass media to create an artist’s own ‘brand’. Similarly, today marketing is used throughout the world in order to advertise specific exhibits in museums or theatre performances. These companies and museums must build up a reputation in order to bring the audience. Banners are displayed, posters are hung, and postcards of the exhibition may even be for sale. The description at the entrance of this first room continued to explain that Andy Warhol succeeded in the marketing and publicity business through his artwork and how many artists followed his model. Along with Warhol, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami are other artists who flourished under this sort of pop consumption. This includes a wide range of areas, such as the music business, magazines, film, and web design. Likewise, in the first room there was the silver rabbit depicted in the promotion for this exhibition. This rabbit is stainless steel and based on a novelty balloon in the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I think this is the first piece of artwork the viewer sees because it represents how an object can be used not only as art, but also through business as a marketing tool. In this case, the rabbit was part of something bigger than the tiny room. It existed in the real world, the Macy’s Parade, and its context and audience was different from art that is placed in a museum. I remember watching the parade that year and watching the rabbit go down the street as a balloon, so it was strange to see how a smaller version was now in the museum I was standing, and the parade was again showing on the screen next to it. It made the object more purposeful and come alive.

As I walked through the other rooms, it became evident that each one is different and equally absorbing in their own ways. For example, in the second room an ultraviolet light shined from above, giving a sort of eerie effect to the artwork on the walls. The artwork housed in this room could only be seen in this light. I thought to myself how difficult it would have been for the artist to create those pieces of art and why he made a whole set and not just one piece. At the beginning of each area, there are explanations of the history and reason of the artwork inside. I found this to be very helpful and insightful. Because the museum decided to show these specific items, it made me wonder why they are important enough to be displayed and what is the story behind each piece. It was amazing to see artwork that I have only seen in books or online before up close in person. The third room of the exhibition was entitled “Worst of Warhol” and contained many of his paintings, including a collage with mythical figures like Superman and Santa Claus. Out of the pop movement, mythological icons were created and enhanced as a way of selling items or enhancing a past figure to make it more appealing to the public. Some spaces even held magazine images or artwork that were considered controversial at the time because of the amount of nudity or pornographic nature. Other rooms were titled “Pop Shop”, “Almost Famous: Young British Artists”, and “Takashi Murakami: Collaboration”. The latter contained Japanese Pop Art with music videos and a full wall mural. As each room took shape, the lack of curiosity did not die out.

I was enthralled by how different each area was and it not only kept me interested, but some spaces also shocked me. For instance, one room contained a full-sized dead horse lying on the ground. This was the only thing in the room, so therefore it got the spectators full attention. It was more surprising that the skin of the horse was actually real. However, in the next room there would be countless amounts of tiny little pictures or magazine ads. What also caught my attention was one piece of art turned out to be two real people who were identical twins sitting on chairs. I had to look back a second time to make sure they were not just spectators. Also, color was the most important feature, I thought, in making the exhibition eye-catching. From purple-tiled walls to a completely gold room, there was no lack of things to look at. It is often the case that if an artwork is isolated from the rest, it is what the museum wants you to focus on. Curators think this is the most important piece. The variety of mediums among artists also illustrates the amount of creativity and ways one can go about creating art for different purposes in the marketing industry. The mediums within the exhibit included photography, oil painting, computerized graphics, stenciling, sculpting, and many others. Such a marketing fascination, however, has the possibility of going too far. In fact, some artists, like Koons and Warhol, turned into what they were trying to represent. This greed and commercialism, for example, took place near the end of Warhol’s career when he would just paint portraits to make money and re-affirm his celebrity lifestyle.

With many famous faces depicted in the works of the exhibition, it is clear that the artists have been highly popular and successful with their pieces. I found that Pop Life also proved to be a successful exhibit just like the artists themselves. The colored words Pop Life outside the museum truly do show the spirit and attention-getting qualities of the exhibition.


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