Walker Art Center's "International Pop" Explores the Edges of Pop Art

For its new exhibition, "International Pop," the Walker Art Center takes a broad look at the assortment of art trends following World War II that fit under the umbrella category of "pop art." Encompassing pieces that draws on popular culture, the show challenges audiences to expand their idea of what pop art means. This is done through different thematic sections, as well as examining how pop art manifested in countries all around the world, including Great Britain, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and different locations in Europe.

Edited by former Walker curator Darsie Alexander, who now runs the Katonah Museum of Art in New York with Bartholomew Ryan, the exhibition is five years in the making. The show questions the definition of pop art, challenging the recorded history of the movement.

After World War II, there was a sense of civil unrest. For artists, it was an open moment where they were exploring new ground. These artists were grappling with the realities of new commodities, newfound economic prosperity, and an explosion of new products.

The show also includes work by artists who positioned themselves as critics of pop art. For example, Paul Thek's Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box is made from an Andy Warhol Brillo Box that the artist acquired and then stuffed with materials made to look like raw meat. Thek decontextualizes Warhol's commodified art, robbing it of its pristine glossiness by inserting something "living" inside of it.

What's especially interesting about the show is how it pushes the edges of how pop art can be defined, looking at it in different contexts and different cultural scenes around the world. Sections explore the New Realism movement, which saw artists finding inspiration from mass media; the use of found and repeating images; and how pop art could be used as a means of creating political art (like in Thomas Bayrle's amazing kinetic Chairman Mao). There's also a section looking at pop artists exploring the body. Here you'll find Jann Haworth's creepily lifelike Maid, and Jana Želibská's voyeuristic erotic pieces, which are harsh to experience, and will definitely make you feel uncomfortable.

Selections such as Jiří Kolář's Mona Lisa Environment, using collage with multiplying images of the Mona Lisa, might not immediately seem like it belongs in the same category of pop art as some of the more recognizable examples. However, with its use of repeating imagery, as well as its basis in domestic objects, it does seem to live in the same world as a Warhol or Lichtenstein, even if that relationship isn't obvious.

Paul Thek's <i>Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box</i>

Paul Thek's Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box

Looking at the different geographical sections -- the exhibition dives into the pop-art scene in Brazil, Argentina, Japan, and other countries -- shows the curators' far reach in accumulating a catalog of the ways artists were working in pop art across the world, sometimes commenting on American culture/imperialism. For example, Antônio Henrique Amaral's Homenagem sec. XX/XXI (20th-21st Century Tribute) as well as Kojima Nobuaki's Untitled (Figure) seem to reference the American flag in critique.

In the end, "International Pop" gives you a more nuanced look at pop art than you might have been familiar with before seeing the works.


"International Pop"

Through August 29

Opening weekend events include an After Hours party tonight from 9 p.m.- 12 a.m. (tickets are $30), and opening day talks on Saturday throughout the day.