Post Pop: East Meets West at Saatchi Gallery, London
EDITOR'S PICK: Move aside Andy Warhol, Saatchi Art Gallery London unveils a new exhibition of shocking Pop Art by Russian and Chinese artists.
One of the most talked about exhibitions in London, Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road is a lurid new show which turns our attention away from Campbell's Soup Cans and towards the lesser known Pop Artists of the Soviet Union and Greater China. As one might expect of Charles Saatchi, there are big names like Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons, Gary Hume, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Rachel Whiteread knocking around too which attempt to give this free for all exhibition a little more gravitas.
Kicking us off, the first section Habitat completely goes against anything you might expect from Pop Art; with a series of monochromatic, oppressive sculptures that are loosely linked to domestic bliss. You’ll easily miss Ai Weiwei’s Sofa in White (2011), and Rachel Whiteread’s shelves and freestanding mattress as you start to search for the familiar motifs which normally make Pop Art so accessible. But stick with it because the real gems are hidden on the first floor.
The rich spectacle of Pop Art in Advertising and Consumerism is a welcome change. Tom Sach’s Nutsy’s MacDonalds (2001) puts us back on familiar ground with the fast-food giant and at last we know what we’re doing. A twist in the tale from Alexey Kallima sees glossy Nivea and Doc Martens adverts re-branded with the unsettling faces of bearded soldiers, drawing on the topical issues of Islamic extremism.
Famous western artists are themselves made into brands, with Jeff Koons appearing in Ashley Bickerton’s Commercial Piece #1 (1989) and Kazimir Malevich’s iconic show, The Last Futurist Exhibition transformed by Blue Nose into a series of meat and bread. Alexander Kosolapov has even managed to reinvent the famous black square into a packet of Malboro cigarettes, entitled Malevich – Black Square (1987).
Kosolapov's Malevich - Black Square, 1987. Photo courtesy Saatchi Gallery
The real pinnacle of the exhibition is the dive into religion and politics on the first floor, where a monumental red sculpture of Christ clasps hands with Mickey Mouse and Lenin in Alexander Kosolapov’s Hero, Leader, God (2014). Fascinating moments include the cloudy serenity of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987); David Mach’s haunting sculpture, Die Harder (2011), where Christ crucified is violently pricked from head to toe with the wiry ends of coat hangers; and a series of figures shrouded in black cloth with bowed heads that look like they could jump to life at any moment.
David Mach's 'Die Harder', Photo courtesy the artist
It then becomes overtly pornographic, with the tenuous link that Pop Artists were generally men so must have been mad about the female body. Pay attention here to Marc Quinn’s The Selfish Gene (2007) with two skeletons entwined on the floor and Paul McCarthy’s Donnie Darko-eesque Spaghetti Man 1993), an enormous mannequin of a rabbit with its internal organs spilling out.
Paul McCarthy's 'Spaghetti Man', 1993. Photo Courtesy Saatchi Gallery
At times Saatchi Gallery, Post Pop: East Meets West seems to lose its way. With so many themes wrapped up in the garish bow of Pop Art it’s not surprising just how overwhelming this exhibition is, but there are moments of weird and wonderful which provoke thrilling social and political debate. Just remember that Gu Wenda’s striking installation United Nations – Man and Space (1999-2000) really is made of real hair.