A Colorful Revolution:
International Pop at the Dallas Museum of Art

Mass culture, Coke bottles, sexual liberation: In Dallas an exhibition sponsored by Deutsche Bank featuring works from 13 countries shows how varied Pop Art actually was.
Back in 1962, the legendary curator Henry Geldzahler observed that the Pop era was the age of “instant art history.” Pop Art took the world by storm in a flash – not only in museums and the art scene, but also in consumer and mass culture. “Pop” became synonymous with a new attitude toward life, with all of the social and political changes that ultimately led to the student revolts of 1968 and the sexual revolution.  “The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola” was the subtitle of Jean Luc Godard’s 1966 film Masculin Féminin and became the catchword for an entire generation.

Indeed, Coke bottles, Marilyns, and grid points became the trademarks of an art movement which today is as much a part of the canon as Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. But while “Pop” was a global cultural phenomena that also encompassed music, fashion, design, and architecture, spawning very distinctive national variants, the “Pop art” sanctioned by critics and museums was usually a purely U.S.-American phenomenon with British offshoots. Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg, and on the other side of the Atlantic Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake, along with David Hockney, who divided his time between London and Los Angeles, is what the Pop Art map drawn in the 1960s still looks like today.

“In those years,” Thomas Bayrle, a German painter who was making Mao’s portrait years before Andy Warhol did, told the New York Times, “it was like a football match in which one side was always winning and the other side couldn’t even score a single goal.” But more than a half a century later, the tables have turned, at least in retrospect. In 2014, Bayrle was on view at the Schirn in Frankfurt as part of the German Pop show, a large-scale retrospective devoted to the German manifestation of Pop.

Now Bayrle’s works are on exhibit again in International Pop, a show the stakes out a global frame for the movement and redefines the Pop Art canon. Coming from the renowned Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Deutsche Bank-sponsored exhibition is now being presented at the Dallas Museum of Art – almost concurrently with The World Goes Pop, which takes a similar tack at Tate Modern in London.

There seems to be great interest in overlooked or undervalued Pop artists from Japan, South America, and Eastern Europe. That also applies to positions that in the 1960s were no longer young or new, and were assigned to other art currents, but that produced astonishingly “Poppish” works. Walker curator Darsie Alexander and her colleague Bartholomew Ryan worked on the project for five years. She says she wasn’t interested in a specific style, in America, or in establishing where and when Pop Art actually began. “When you look back at the things that were being written in the late 1950s and early 1960s, everybody knew something incredibly new was going on in society with mass culture and images, and everybody was trying to find a way to describe it.”

Thus, “International Pop” crosses borders. With 125 works by 100 artists from 13 countries, the exhibition combines Pop Art classics, including Ed Ruscha and Tom Wesselmann, with international positions that dissociated themselves from Pop at the time: Japanese Anti-Art, Brazilian Neoconcretismo, and French Nouveau Réalisme.

The gap between Warhol & co and international Pop became apparent in a paradoxical way during the elaborate preparations for the show. The works of the American Pop heroes, which sell for sums between 50 and 100 million dollars at auctions, were very difficult to obtain for insurance reasons. Meanwhile, the curators’ detours to countries such as Hungary, Brazil, Japan, and Argentina were veritable voyages of discovery – works that had lain dormant in collections or studios can now be seen by a broad public again.

The result is fantastic. In Dallas, icons such as Ed Rucha’s famous filling station work Standard Station, Amarillo Texas (1963) and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic adaptation Look Mickey (1961) encounter a surprisingly innovative Pop cosmos ranging from the Rauschenberg-like Mona Lisa Environment (1964) of the Czech artist and activist Jirí Kolár, to the interior paintings of the Brazilian artist Wanda Pimentel recalling the early Tom Wesselmann, all the way to the bright geometric abstractions of the Japanese Neo-Dadaist Ushio ShinoharaInternational Pop not only shows that the grammar of Pop art has to be given a more international scope, but also provides ample material for further exhibitions. Many of the artists on show here in the Pop context have created complex, distinctive oeuvres that would be worth a retrospective in their own right.

International Pop
10/11/2015 – 1/17/2015
Dallas Museum of Art