As Andy Warhol famously declared, “Good business is the best art.” Taking Warhol and his maxim as its point of departure, Pop Life: Art in a Material World presents a selection of international artists who have followed in his footsteps. Organized by London’s Tate Modern and co-curated by Artforum editor-at-large Jack Bankowsky, François Pinault Collection curator Alison Gingeras, and Tate Modern curator Catherine Wood, Pop Life explores the relationship between art, commerce, and celebrity in the post-Pop era.
The show gleefully mixes art and ephemera, as witnessed in the introductory gallery, which displays Jeff Koons‘ coveted 1986 stainless-steel Rabbit, which was based on an inflatable toy, with a video clip of a larger-than-life inflatable version of the sculpture in the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The room also juxtaposes a Warhol self-portrait with a television commercial he did for TDK Videotape and a Takashi Murakami sculpture of a sexy girl jump-roping through a breast-milk rope with a collection of toy-size versions of his classic works, which are packaged with chewing gum and available for mass consumption.
Warhol explodes in several succeeding galleries with paintings of gems, celebrity portraits, and reversal paintings, which revisited earlier successes, such as Marilyn and Mona Lisa, while branding them as iconic products. Portraits of Andy and friends out at parties by Bob Colacello, Patrick McMullan, and Christopher Makos share the space with his art, self-portrait wallpaper, photographic books, commercial endorsements, copies of Interview magazine, and segments from Andy Warhol’s T.V., which first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1981. Warhol was savvy at marketing his image in the media, even taking it as far as making a cameo appearance on the cornball-yet-popular television show The Love Boat.
The fifth gallery features self-referential works, including Ashley Bickerton’s late-’80s Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles), which uses corporate logos to convey a sense of the artist, and David Robbins’ Talent, a group of 18 photographic portraits of up-and-coming artists in the mid-‘80s, shot in the style of an actor’s head-shot. Elaine Sturtevant’s paintings of Keith Haring tags and a collaboration between Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the room further comment on the cult of celebrity.
A series of rooms that focus on individual artists that exploit the age-old comingling of sex and commerce follows. Richard Prince’s gallery, which contained a single Prince photo of a Gary Gross photo of a naked, ten-year-old Brooke Shields was shut down by London police over concerns of child pornography, even though the 1983 photograph of Shields, standing in a tub and made up like an adult, has been kicking around the art world for more than 25 years. Prince replaced the seized photo with a later, sanctioned, 2005 version of the actress in a similar pose, but now in a bikini.
Up next is a recreation of Keith Haring’s Pop Shop, which opened in 1986 and sold t-shirts, posters, pins, refrigerator magnets, and other inexpensive products by the artist, who made his name tagging the NYC subways and streets of cultural capitals around the world. Meanwhile, Martin Kippenberger’s room recreates the first gallery of his 1993 exhibition Candidature à une Retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and, ironically, includes a number of works by artists related to the Paris Bar, an artist hangout and restaurant that Kippenberger co-founded in Berlin.
Room 9 exhibits paintings and sculptures from Jeff Koons’ Made in Heaven, a series of works that celebrates his sexual encounters with the Hungarian-born porn star and politician Ilona Staller, aka La Cicciolina. The Adam and Eve fantasy leads viewers into an installation by ‘70s British porn-star Cosey Fanni Tutti, who was also a founding member of the experimental noise band Throbbing Gristle. After appearing in hundreds of porn magazines, Tutti declared her career to be a performance-art piece and exhibited in gallery and museum shows, which were often met with media outrage.
Inspired by American artists like Warhol, Bickerton, and Koons, a new generation of London artists, known as the Young British Artists, started forming their own scene in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Damien Hirst’s 1992 display of identical dot paintings with identical twins; Gavin Turk’s 1993 self-portrait as Sid Vicious in the pose of Warhol’s Elvis; and handmade objects from Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas’ 1993 DIY art store/studio, The Shop, are among the works representing this period.
Updating the YBA’s conversation on materialism is a room of recent Hirst works, which were part of his Beautiful Inside My Head Forever auction, a $200 million sale that was staged by the artist at Sotheby’s in London in fall 2008. The humorously titled painting The Kiss of Midas flaunts butterflies, diamonds, and gold paint, while the sculpture False Idol displays a calf with 18-carat gold hooves that’s preserved in formaldehyde and encased in glass.
The show returns to a more distant past with notorious works by Pruitt Early, Piotr Uklanski, and Andrea Fraser that have all garnered sharp media and public criticism. Six paintings from Rob Pruitt and Jack Early’s scandalous 1990 show at Leo Castelli Gallery, which brought cries of racism and ended their collaborative career, are resurrected in an arrangement that makes one wonder what all the fuss was about. Uklanski shows his provocative 1998 installation of photographs of actors portraying Nazis, which was attacked in his native Poland. Trumping all three artists, Fraser shows a 2003 video of her having sex with an anonymous collector at a cost: $20,000. Tutti should have thought of that idea 25 years earlier.
Maurizio Cattelan’s downed horse with a religious sign stuck in it occupies its own gallery prior to a full-blown Murakami installation with wallpaper, flyers, videos, prints, jewelry, a bear figure based on Kanye West, and a toothy, junk-food eating, collaborative sculpture made with musician Pharrell Williams, and first exhibited and sold at last summer’s Art Basel. Shoe designs for Louis Vuitton, a video and neon about his GEISAI art fair (artists have long been curators, writers, and even dealers, but few have their own art fair), and his recent video collaboration with McG and Kirsten Dunst round out the room and take it over the top.
A flag in the café by Reena Spaulings, an artist and gallerist who has blurred the boundaries between art and commerce by turning herself into a brand name, completes the show, which has found few supporters in the British press. An art critic in The Independent gave it one out of five stars, while calling it “brash, unadulterated, in-your-face pop trash,” but back in New York, that’s exactly the kind of bold work we like. The post-Pop trio of Koons-Hirst-Murakami represents artist/entrepreneurs who know as much about branding as they do about brushstrokes, but they live in our time, not in the past.
Pop Life: Art in a Material World is on view at Tate Modern through January 17.
Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, The Shop 6, c-type prints Each: 29 15/16 x 36 in. (76.1 x 91.5 cm) © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2009 Photo: Carl Freedman, Courtesy White Cube