17 Sep 2015 — 24 Jan 2016.
The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is a groundbreaking exhibition revealing how artists around the world engaged with the spirit of Pop, from Latin America to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East. At Tate Modern from 17 September 2015, the show will explode the traditional story of Pop art and show how different cultures contributed, re-thought and responded to the movement. Around 160 works from the 1960s and 1970s will be brought together, including many which have never been exhibited in the UK before.
Pop art is generally considered an Anglo-American phenomenon, a knowing but unconflicted reflection on modern commercial culture, associated with such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. This exhibition will reveal the alternative stories of Pop, highlighting key figures of the era who have often been left out of mainstream art history. It will also reveal how Pop was never just a celebration of Western consumerism, but was often a subversive international language for criticism and public protest across the globe.
The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop will also showcase many women artists who played key roles in the movement, including Evelyne Axell, Eulàlia Grau, Nicola L, Marta Minujin and Martha Rosler, challenging the traditional cast of male figures who have come to dominate Pop’s canon.
Evelyne Axell’s “Valentine” will be exhibited for the first time in the UK. A key work, uniquely combining Pop’s aesthetics with the themes of space race and sexual revolution as the conquest of new territories.
This work referring to the first woman cosmonaut, the Russian Valentina Terechkova, will occupy a prime place in the exhibition’s opening room, where a small selection of key Pop works will be drawn together in order to introduce Pop as a subversive strategy and language.
With its unique way to take hold of a motif largely treated by male Pop artists at the time, “Valentine” will stand out as a pivotal example of how Pop was adopted by Evelyne Axell as an emancipatory tool, critically addressing issues of sexual revolution and the liberation of the body as well as the space race.
Among the other works on display, “Le joli moi de mai” may be regarded as undoubtedly the most impressive work of Evelyne Axell, and not only by its exceptional size, 3.5 meters by 2 meters, but also by the materials used; opaline plexiglas and enamel paint. Evelyne Axell will take nearly two years to complete this triptych in her studio of the Rue Tenbosch in Brussels.
The peculiarity of this work lies in the pictorial synthesis of very different currents of protest movements at that time. The center panel appears to be homogeneous but actually consists of two very different ways – even almost opposite – of how youth challenged previous generation’s establishment.
The background evokes the Parisian events of May 1968. The girl waving a red flag is directly inspired by the famous photograph by the reporter Jean-Pierre Rey, a picture that made the front-page of many magazines around the world. This photo actually shows a young top model, Caroline de Bendern, who happened to be near the Luxembourg Gardens during a student demonstration, sitting on the shoulders of the French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel. She waved a Vietnamese flag.
Evelyne Axell turns the North Vietnam flag into a red flag and, especially, unveils the bare chest of the beautiful model while leaving her little fitted jacket. Caroline de Bendern is not a real demonstrator, but following her appearance at the headlines in these circumstances she will be disinherited by her grandfather, a wealthy English lord.
This background represents a politically engaged movement in Europe but also present in the USA in the movements for civil rights of minorities and against the Vietnam War. Some demonstrators identify with different more or less structured political movements from left and extreme left, although the vast majority of students simply want more freedoms, including sexual freedom. After all, May 68 began with a dispute over visitation rights in the girls’ rooms at the University of Nanterre…
The foreground of the central panel evokes a different aspect of the protest movements of the sixties. We see five hippies, two boys and three girls, all with long hair sitting on the grass, bare – except for a small scarf – obviously not inclined to demonstrate. These hippies express a completely different and non-politicized refusal of the establishment. Of American origin, the hippie movement denies the consumer society without necessarily wanting to destroy it. It advocates non-violence, community life, the psychedelic experience, the return to nature and sexual freedom.
The left panel shows the French art critic Pierre Restany, admirer of the work of Evelyne Axell, wearing a poncho and raising his hand like a prophet guiding another form of protest through contemporary art. At the time Pierre Restany had, not without some humor, closed down the Museum of Modern Art in Paris “because of public futility”.
The right panel is a self-portrait of the artist as she also repeated in many other versions. Her gaze calmly observes all this protest fuss. Although she bears a great affection for them, she does not identify herself neither with the hippies nor the leftists. She has her own struggle both solitary and yet so universal. Her female condition! She carries her weapons for this struggle; a paintbrush in her left hand and a pot of paint in the right hand. This work is both a testimony on the protest movements of that time but also her contribution to the transformation of society.
The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is curated by Jessica Morgan, Director, Dia Art Foundation, and Flavia Frigeri, Curator, Tate Modern, with Elsa Coustou, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition will be accompanied by a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.
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