Pop Art as Life.
The day before I went to the “World Goes Pop” at Tate Modern I had watched the Kray film “Legend”. Suddenly I realised while some of these artists,who oh so cleverly, mix up genitals, world events,flags, news print and bold colours ,the Krays actually lived Pop Art.
They didn’t want to be gangsters in the modern corporate sense, controlling industries and regions and skimming off 10 per cent off everything that moved. No, they wanted to be gangters like in the movies, as in art. Cagney, Bogie, Wham, POW.
Big cars, fawning sidekicks , violence as a dramatic show,, the glamour of the high spots, the love of an adoring Mum. Zap, Ping, Pong. In fact when it came to being serious gangsters rather than cut out cartoons ,they made sure that didn’t happen, by bumping off their business manager/consigliere. And just to show that Pop Art is where they were really at, they end up both doing 20 years time.Dont do the Crime if you cant do the Time.
Like Pop Art the Krays although in your face and subversive were very much part of the system and like Pop Art the system eventually easily mastered and colonised them.
Pop Art is so simple. Big and bold, take a modern American kitchen and then put a picture of Mao’s Red Guard on the wall and hey, presto, gazooks, you’ve got it. Pop goes the Weasel and Pop goes Art.
Many of the great images both in Tate’s World Show and in the US home of Pop ,revolve around the obscene juxtaposition of the Vietnam War and the successful roll on and on of consumer capitalism. Who wasnt shocked. Frying babies and hamburgers with equal amounts of relish. Napalm in the Morning. And Afternoon.Zip. Zap.Zoom.
And while we wandered the 3rd level gallery images from the sixties were being played out on the borders of Hungary and Croatia.
Here young men,families with the old and babes in arms were confronted by state goons, water cannon and barbed wire. There is little doubt that the refugees know how to play their part in this mise en scene. Few successful states can abdicate control over their space but if the opponent doesnt do what they’re told and you dont use absolute force you have the present situation. Colourful, confrontation, made for TV, representative of all that is beastly about essentially cruel capitalist society, living theatre,a hole in the heart metaphor for the whole soup can. So Pop Art. Subversive but in the end controllable and very much part of the system which it succours rather than destroys. Way to Go.
Meanwhile the Tate Modern’s walls showed us the ironic passion of artists protesting at racism, sexism and imperialism. Forty years of protest , forty years of right on agit prop. While all those attending the show were white, those in attendance were of a different colour. Right On.
On the way back on the tube I helped an Austrian tourist find his way onto the Circle Line. As he thanked me I cracked “Don’t worry we love refugees”. It got quite a good laugh. Pop Art as Life. It’s the way you tell ‘em.