SOFIA GOTTI | NEW YORK | 2017
This inaugural exhibition at the Galeria Houssein Jarouche features works on paper by artists from the UK, Brazil and the USA selected from the gallery’s extensive archive. For over two decades, Jarouche collected works that reflected a Pop Art ethos, or an attentiveness to the effect of popular and commercial culture on everyday life. As such, this first curated selection dating from 1964, highlights some of the issues that have preoccupied generations since the late 1950s. Among these are the problematic proliferation of mediated images, women’s liberation, a willingness to involve wider portions of the population within the art circuit by renegotiating the divisions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.
Terre Haute (translatable to Highland) — which the exhibition borrows its name from — is a town in the Wabash Valley in Indiana, USA. Originally a Wea Indian tribe settlement called Weautano, it was renamed by French explorers in the early 18th century, at the height of the colonization period. Rober t Indiana, amongst the best known American Pop artists, used this name in several works, playing on his rendition of the area crossed by the iconic Wabash Railroad. These pieces “about geography,” in Indiana’s own words, invite critical attention to the translated names of the town and the Wabash Valley, which is an English spelling of the Miami Indian word for river.
The brief anecdote around Terre Haute captures many of the issues that Pop Art raises when used as a global artistic category and which are addressed by the works on display: naming, translation, imperialism. Wabash, Weautano, Terre Haute, Highland are words and translations that punctuate the clash of four cultures — Native American, French, British, Nor th American. The sum of these terms capture the complexity of this territory’s history defined by ambiguity
and pluralism. Because of the impor tance to recognize such entangled narratives in all regions, Pop Art can be controversial when intended as an all-inclusive international label for risking to homogenise them. In fact, though many works on display were made at a similar time and share comparable subjects, others greatly differ visually and historically. As such, Pop should be intended as a connective tissue and a grid that facilitates connections between practices. The meaning found within works or ideas developed at the same time in disparate contexts was termed ‘synchronic’ by Carl Jung, who sought to identify the productive conclusions one can draw from seemingly unrelated events. With this concept in mind, the exhibition avoids a chronological or geographical ordering, with the objective to highlight the conversations that can emerge between pieces produced internationally over five decades.
Among the principal themes addressed in the exhibition are Pop’s critique (and sometimes celebration) of mass media, consumption and on the frequent objectification of female bodies. Two prominent silkscreens by Rober t Rauschenberg mark Pop’s important overlap with Neo-Dada (the style the artist was initially associated to), and the use of newer technologies, such as silkscreen, that promoted mass reproducibility. The imagery in Rauschenberg’s pieces from the 1970s are evocative of his earlier practice and include tools, machinery, American Indians and political figures culled from magazines and newspapers. Rauschenberg sought to contaminate the realm of ‘high art’ — which especially in the USA had been monopolised by Abstract Expressionists — with the crudeness of everyday life, politics and war. The intensity of the quotidian is also apparent in works by Mauricio Nogueira Lima and Antônio Dias from the late 1960s, whose imagery of aggression evoked the violence perpetrated
by Brazil’s dictatorial regime in place between 1964 and 1985. Indebted to the aesthetic of comic books, Nogueira Lima pictured a fist slamming downwards with the written sound ‘Crack!’. Similarly, Dias’ ghostly soldier is beating a flaming heart, symbolic of passion and youth. The iconography of cartoons, as also exemplified by the Keith Haring drawing of Mickey Mouse casting dice (symbols of fate), was abundant in Pop, posing the question of what the long-term effects of such easily consumable, idealised and frequently violent images could be.
Roy Lichtenstein most notably appropriated the aesthetics of comics throughout his oeuvre. While his images often satirised on the stereotypical narratives in these publications, artists such as Judith Lauand used similar compositions to reflect on her position as a woman within conservative Brazilian society. The silkscreens in the exhibition reproduce paintings made in the sixties, depicting close encounters between men and women, which do not comply with the mass media story of conjugal harmony, often determined by the gentle sex’s submission. Instead, Lauand’s couples are desynchronised: she seems disinterested, smoking a cigarette instead of being fulfilled by his embrace, or avoiding a kiss instead of longing for one. In both cases, she is at the centre of the composition. Images of women — whether sexualised or not — are omnipresent within the mediated images Pop works often draw from. Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe following her suicide in 1962 speak to the destructive effects of celebrity culture while heightening the iconicity of its protagonists. Warhol repeatedly silkscreened Monroe onto one canvas creating serial images, which had the effect of anaesthetising the viewer to its macabre connotations leaving just the spectacular emblem. In a similar vein, yet with a contrasting technique, Anna Maria Maiolino
produced self-por traits that rid themselves of all the attributes of femininity leaving a plain silhouette with nothing but a mouth left, representative of consumption and speech as a mode of self-determination. Building on the notion of Anthropophagy — the ingestion and re-elaboration of foreign cultures into a new local one, also a bedrock of Brazilianness - the woodcut shows two figures side by side, with their open mouths enunciating in a comic-like speech bubble the word ‘Anna.’ The two figures share a singular identity but remain split in two, suggesting a commentary on the effects of unmoderated consumption on singular notions of selfhood.
The cultural effects of consumption are further decoded in works by Abidiel Vicente, Houssein Jarouche and Mel Ramos, exemplified in the display by the appropriation of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes’, Marlboro’s and the Baby Ruth candy bar’s branding. Jarouche and Vicente operated a détournement on the cigarette pack, by turning it into a large wooden container where the word ‘Marlboro’ is replaced with ‘Warhol.’ The piece pays homage to the latter’s Brillo Boxes and is a testament to his influence on art-making. Instead of infiltrating high art with the pictures of popular culture as Warhol did, the artist duo subverted a marketed image by inserting a name now consolidated in art history and in the ‘high art’ category.
Besides blurring the boundaries between high and low visual culture, artists working with a Pop lexicon deployed it to critique international political phenomena. The recurring motif of space iconography (ubiquitous in the late 1960s) is invariably reminiscent of the Space Race: a competition between the USSR and the USA to advance spaceflight capability during the Cold War. Claudio Tozzi’s series of astronauts merge
the visual strategies of comic-books and the mass-media dealing with a theme inextricably connected to ideological rivalries. His images invite reflection on the fine line separating advertising, entertainment and propaganda, while highlighting the non-ordinary quality of his subject matter. The astronauts encapsulate the future and the forefront of technology. Depicting them with Pop’s commonplace aesthetic attempted to bring them closer to the everyday while simultaneously underscoring their separation from it. The disjunction between technique and subject is also adopted by Banksy who represents a young girl hugging a bomb as if it were her toy. His image equates the familiarity of daily realities with those of warfare in Pop’s accessible language.
Works by Rubens Gerchman and Anna Bella Geiger stray from Pop’s commercial aesthetic — which their practices explored in greater depth in the mid-1960s — yet continue an investigation into the future possibilities of our planet. Gerchman’s interventions on the landscape are visual poems that juxtapose the artificial materials his words are made of with nature. A metallic outline of the word ‘Terra’ is captured as if abandoned on barren earth; ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are also spelled out on a shore eliciting renewed reflection on their significance in such a context. Though these works are closer to conceptual land art, the silkscreen technique and the font link his aesthetic to Pop. Similarly, Geiger’s prints manipulate the imaginary longitudinal and latitudinal lines that splice our globe to reinvent the planet’s shape, questioning the arbitrariness of geo-political divisions and orders (a theme widely explored in her oeuvre).
Connecting to the motifs of technological innovation and its effects on our perception, images of machinery heighten the sense of discomfor t and acceleration imposed by modern
living. Raymundo Colares’ diamond shaped print is based on the sides of city busses speeding on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Wanda Pimentel used the stark lines that for Colares evoked public transportations in her self-portraits. Often set in a car or a domestic environment populated by electric appliances, her works only reveal the presence of a subject partially showing a leg, a foot, a hand. The silkscreen on display typically presents the side of a car inside of which only a few naked toes are visible. Pimentel hid herself behind machines, which were so intrinsically part of her life that they replaced her own image. Seen alongside Pimentel’s investigations, Gerard Malanga’s fax prints drawn from Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series emphasise the dangers of embedding technology so deeply in our existence.
The works selected for this exhibition address the consequences of the proliferation of the mass media in all areas of life – from patterns of consumption, branding, the blurring of high and low art, the objectification of women and the spectacularisation of violence. Though with highly heterogeneous strategies, each piece reflects on cultural superstructures and the formation of identity over more than half a century in international locales. Within the framework established, Pop Art is first and foremost connected to mediated culture and its effects on personal and public issues. If, as suggested at the beginning of the text, the definition of Pop is also suspended on the concept of synchronicity, the themes it approaches begin to intertwine offering a much more nuanced and complex perspective on the problematics of an époque. By establishing a widespread grid across which disparate practices can connect, the Pop umbrella reveals how artists redrew personal geographies and resisted socio-political superstructures — whether in dictatorial Brazil, Britain or in the USA.