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Sep
16

Manufacturing Dissent: International Pop and the Relationship Between Art and Pop Culture

By justinandrews

International Pop not only presented Walker visitors with a pop art experience that went far beyond what typically constitutes pop art for a Western audience, it proved that pop art was a global phenomenon and a platform for the critique of contemporary culture throughout the world.  In light of the show’s recent closing, WACTAC alum Justin Andrews presents some opinions, reflections, and analysis on works and themes in the show.  

“Art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer:  it does not reflect, it shapes.”

–Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

ipopBlog

Pop culture and artistic culture exist in a contradictory, dialectical relationship.  On the one hand, we have pop culture.  Pop culture is the embodiment of what the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci called “cultural hegemony”:  the idea that the values of the ruling class become the dominant values of a society as they are propagated through its media.  This can be clearly seen in pop culture, celebrity culture in particular:  wealth, materialism, and selfish individualism are all celebrated, along with the occasional jingoism.  Any “rebellion” that is permitted is rebellion in the sense of getting a new hairstyle or a leather jacket, and charity is posited as the radical hope for the least of these.  

Artistic culture, however, emerges as the radical opposition to these bourgeois values.  It seeks to uproot and overturn them in various manners.  Here, it opposes them by counterposing the existential truths that pop culture seeks to forgo:  sadness, death, and the meaninglessness of unlimited wealth.  There, it opposes them by exposing the barbarities that pop culture help to obscure:  wage slavery, imperialism, racism, heterosexism.  Art is a real,  dangerous rebellion; perhaps that is why the powers that be fear artists.  

In any case, the development of both has worked in a dialectical manner:  pop culture here, art there, a mixture of both in a new form of pop culture, and then a new critique from art.  The development of jazz, from being the protest music of African-Americans to the hip tunes of the whites in the 20s, is a good example of this.  International Pop speaks to this dialectical relationship by the very theme at the heart of the exhibit:  the pieces are by and large inspired by aspects of pop culture, but are used by the artists to turn them on their heads and provide a radical critique of the status quo.

La Civilizacion Occidental y Cristian, 1965, León Ferrari, Argentinian:

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Photo from Bank of the Republic, Colombia

Walking through the exhibit, I find myself  drawn over and over to this piece.  The imagery is striking:  A United States Air Force plane going down adorned with a crucifix.  As I look upon it, I cannot help but think that this piece is perhaps the ultimate symbol of Western Imperialism:  violence and brutality masked as peace and generosity.  

It seems quite appropriate that it is an American aircraft that is raining down.  For the last half-century at least, America has proven itself to be the world’s dominant imperial power.  It has supported coups against the democratically elected governments of Guatemala, Iran, Chile, and many other countries.  It has supported and turned a blind eye to  vicious military dictatorships in Argentina, Indonesia, and other nations who were willing to support American economic interests.  And if the wars in the Middle East and continued interference in Latin American affairs, particularly Venezuelan, reveal anything, America still seeks to expand and consolidate its influence today.  

The image of Christ harkens back to several periods in the history of imperialism.  It brings one back to the Scramble for Africa, when the European imperial powers would justify their conquests by claiming to be on “humanitarian missions” to “save and civilize” the indigenous populations.  It brings one to the Cold War, when the struggle between the US and the USSR was portrayed by the Western powers as a struggle between the “free world” against the “godless communists.”  And it brings one to the modern day, when Bush justifies the Iraq War that killed possibly up to one million Iraqi civilians in the name of God.  

What is truly cynical about this piece is that Christ himself was a victim of Empire. The Roman Imperial Authorities saw the preaching of Jesus, with his message of love for the poor and widowed, and woe to the hypocrites and powers that be,  as a threat to their rule over Judea, and, consequently, had him crucified.  Several centuries later, the same Roman Empire that executed him would appropriate his image to provide a spiritual justification and support for their conquests, a practice that has been continued by Western powers to this day.  That the figure of Christ is smaller than the bomber seems to me no coincidence:  the imperial powers seek to obscure the destructive power of their violence by dressing it up as something wholesome and good, be it “the work of God”, “humanitarianism” or whatever else.  

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1962-63, Sergio Lombardo, Italian:

lombardo_sergio_Kennedy from Walker Art Center. Mad Men logo. AMC

Photo from Star Tribune/Walker Art Center

I look up and down the portrait of Kennedy.  He is face forward, and his finger is pointed towards the audience.  His face, his hand, and most of his suit is jet black.  I feel two strange, contradictory feelings as I look upon him.  On the one hand, I feel inspired, I feel pumped, I feel energized by this figure before me.  Perhaps I will see, after all, what I can do for my country.  On the other hand, I feel nervous, I feel a little dread, an ominous feeling comes over me.  Something does not seem right about this figure of Kennedy, something seems a little dark and sinister.  

But should that be surprising?  Is it unwarranted that I feel distrustful of this image of Kennedy?  Politicians are more often than not Machiavellian personages supporting the powers that be while maintaining an image of purity and goodness.  Woodrow Wilson announced with his Fourteen Points a new era of peace and civility among nations while at the same time sending American troops into Russia.  FDR proclaimed a “New Deal” for America while simultaneously excluding black workers, rounding up Japanese-Americans and preserving the capitalist system.  Kennedy was no exception to this rule.  He delayed action on Black civil rights until it was politically unviable for him not to do so.  He criticized East Germany for setting up the Berlin Wall while imposing an embargo on Cuba.  And he helped escalate the War in Vietnam, all the while keeping a very nice, smooth, “liberal” image.  

This contrast, between the inspirational images that these politicians aim to project and the harmful policies they pursue, is perfectly captured within this portrait.  Of course, one could fairly say that not all politicians are two-faced.  But, the ones who truly aren’t are few and far between, for now.  

Drink More, 1964, Shinohara Ushio, Japanese:

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 Photo from Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art

This small piece is reflective of the consumerist culture that is promoted and egged on by capitalism.  “More, more, more!” it demands.  Drink more and you will be happier!  You will be smarter!  You will be stronger!  Faster!  Sexier!  This is capital in its encounter with the everyday consumer:  have more of this, and you will be more of that.  A promise is made, but at the end of the day it is the promise of a con artist:  the consumer spends on a product, which is temporarily satisfying and soon needs to be replenished, while the bourgeois profit as the consumer’s dependence grows and grows.  

I can’t help but find it significant that the Coca-Cola is an American product, but that it is a Japanese Coke bottle.  This seems to be suggestive of a very basic principle of capitalism:  the seeking of new markets.  Capital always seeks new markets beyond national borders to sell its products and augment itself.  That Coke is shown as being sold in Japan is illustrative of this.  

Mao, Thomas Bayrle, 1966, German:

 Greenspring Media, Minnesota Monthly, 2015, Tj Turner, Minneapolis, Art, Walker, Walker Art Center, Pop Art

Photo from Minnesota Monthly

This piece, perhaps more than any other, signifies how International Pop is a product of its time.  For many young Western students, a rejection of Western capitalism did not signal an embrace of Eastern Stalinism.  The emerging New Left, while decrying Western capitalism and imperialism, similarly rejected the imperialism of the Soviet bloc, particularly after the crushing of Prague Spring.  Instead, they looked elsewhere, for new, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist heroes and inspirations, most notably in the figure of Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong.  

When I stumbled across this piece in the exhibit, it seemed to me to perfectly capture the affection that much of the New Left had for Mao in the late 60s.  For many, Chairman Mao was the real exponent of Marxism-Leninism, the real leader who was leading a world revolution against Western imperialism.  Students all across the West studied the Little Red Book, brought pictures of Mao to protests.  The Black Panthers studied his teachings and formed ties with China.  To the New Left, Mao seemed to symbolize their aspirations.   

The hundreds of little figures in this portrait, the figures that added up come to form the Chairman’s face, seem to symbolize the extreme ideological fealty that much of the Western Left had for Mao.  At the same time, such fealty is deeply revealing of the sway that Mao’s cult of personality had even outside of China.  The tragic irony of the situation is that the New Left sought an anti-imperialist, non-Soviet hero in Mao, when Mao modeled China on classical Stalinist lines.  Maoist China was a bureaucratic dictatorship like the Soviet Union, far removed from the sort of workers’ democracy championed by Marx and Engels.  

While their worship of Mao was misplaced, it may be argued that in doing so the New Left made a “right step in the wrong direction.”  That is, they had come to reject their own bourgeois imperialist leaders, and were looking to find an alternative to the status quo.  Their attachment to Mao was an attempt to find such an alternative.  The attempt was worthy even though the result was not; the point is to continue to search for alternatives instead of giving into the status quo.  As such, this portrait stands today both as a product of the era it was crafted in, and as a first attempt to find an alternative to the present state of affairs.  

Venus, 1967, Jana Zelibska, Slovakian:

ZelibskaBLog

Photo from Slovak National Gallery

Coming across this piece, the glass jars and the mirror, strategically placed over the woman’s breasts and vagina, are the first things that catch one’s eye.  Looking at it up and down, this piece comes across as a commentary on the sexual objectification of women.  We are drawn to the strategically placed objects not simply because they are an interesting choice, but because we have been conditioned to perceive these parts of a woman’s body as being the most important, as those which define her worth.

This appears further pronounced when one considers that no head is shown in the piece, because, after all, it is not by her brain or her talents that a woman is valued in our patriarchal society.  

Looking further, one cannot help but notice that this feminine figure is tan.  One has to wonder if this is not only a commentary on the sexual objectification of women, but the exoticization of women of color.  When women of color are exoticized, specific features or skin tones they have as a result of their ethnic makeup become a source of sexual fetishism.  It’s the sort of exoticization that leads white men to, say,  hit on women of East Asian descent by telling them that they have “yellow fever” and “love Asian girls.” This combination of sexual objectification and exoticization reduces women of color from thinking, feeling human beings to rare specimens to be toyed around with.  

To Wit:  

International Pop as a whole is an exhibit that is both historical and contemporary.  It is historical because it captures the works and period of a specific moment in history.  As an article of history, the exhibit demonstrates how the artists of the 60s reacted against the bourgeois values promoted by pop culture.  But, it is contemporary in what it reveals about the relationship between pop culture and artistic culture.  In our modern era, artistic culture is a radical rebellion against pop culture, it is a medium that reveals pop culture for what it is:  an instrument to promote destructive bourgeois values while providing a hollow mask to cover inequalities and injustices that capital generates.  

It may seem that one or the other side has the upper hand, and it’s clear that it is not a balanced set of forces working against each other.  While pop culturalists have the mainstream corporate media to distribute the work, artists have had to be more inventive and find alternative avenues to show their work, such as street theater.  But  this tension between artistic culture and pop culture is one that arose with the dawn of bourgeois society, and as long as the current system persists the struggle between both mediums will continue to exist.  The merit of International Pop is that it is not only a great art exhibit, but it provides us a window into understanding this underlying relationship.   

 

Jun
26

Consumer_sm: a Response to IPOP at the Walker Art Center

By olliewollerman

Upon seeing International Pop for the first time, I was immediately blown away with the amount of color in the exhibition. From this initial observation of the show, I was inspired to incorporate the same kind of flat, graphic colors into an art piece. Throughout the show, many pieces integrated similar aspects of consumerism and capitalism. One of the overarching themes in the show was the idea of production and consumption, and this idea pushed me to tie in the corporate logos into the art piece. Many of the pieces in particular that inspired me had ideas like these, for […]

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Jun
24

CALLING YOUNG ARTISTS AND THINKERS

By Mike Massey

Hey YOU! Do you or anybody you know want to get involved with Teen Programs at the Walker? Apply to WACTAC and Youth Collective by June 30 (that’s next week!) and be invited to an activity day in July. Apply online here >>> http://wac.mn/1HIYyaA Do it! This video was shot and directed by Satya Varghese Mac, a graduating council member. Thanks to Lucy, Sarah and Justin for standing in all those places and all of that wavin’. Get with it!

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Jun
14

Museum Mixtape #6

By ingridtoppjohnson

Museum Mixtape is back! For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, museum mixtape pairs a piece/collection of artwork at the Walker Art Center with a song. The collection featured this time is INTERNATIONAL POP, an exhibition that looks at Pop Art as a global movement rather than a strictly American one. It encompasses a staggering diversity of technique and perspective. From Brazil to Japan to Germany, artists react to modernization, westernization, political unrest and the growing importance of mass media. These songs are meant to refract back the themes of this exhibit.   First song up is Eu Te Amo, Te […]

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Jun
5

How Can Museums and Artists Help Advocate for Social Change?

By Yonci Jameson

Members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) often discuss the role of artists and museums in social and racial justice—and these conversations have taken on new significance in light of recent demonstrations across the country calling for police reform and racial equity. To further these discussions and bring them online, we invited Yonci Jameson, a Twin Cities teen artist, queer black woman, and social justice activist, to share her recommendations for both artists and arts institutions interested social change. Growing up, art museums used to bore me. There was never anything captivating about artists I’d never heard […]

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May
7

Illuminate!

By sarahmaudegriffin

  On Saturday, February 28th WACTAC hosted and participated in Illuminate! a Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN) event. During the event there were representatives from various colleges in Cargill Lounge, stop motion videos being made in the art lab with local artist John Akre, and then a showcase of films made by youth from all over the metro area. During the showcase films ranged from music videos, LGBTQ+ rights, self love to even talking wolves. WACTAC during the showcase, Photo by Walker Art Center Two WACTAC members, Satya Varghese Mac and myself, were able to show original pieces during […]

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Apr
29

WACTAC Makes a Zine

By olliewollerman

  Front Cover of Awkwardness is a Feeling For the past few weeks, WACTAC has been working on a zine, for those who don’t know, a zine is an abbreviation for magazine or “fanzine”, a self published magazine that is made to be sent around and shared. We will be sending off the zine to other teen councils at different museums around the country and overseas. This project will spread the word about what is going on at the Walker, and possibly spur further interaction with other teen councils. Zines have been around for a while, and over time, have […]

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Apr
23

Teenage Coup

By Mike Massey

I am a WACTAC alumni (Class of 2004) and have been hanging out with the council lately, sitting in on their meetings and helping out a bit with this blog. I tagged along last week as WACTAC had the opportunity to tour the International Pop show with co-curator Bartholomew Ryan. The lauded exhibition displays a body of Pop art of the 1950’s through the 1970’s, with strong representations of artists and movements from Japan, Brazil and Germany, and some notable American works in the mix (Warhol and Lichtenstein, deified beacons of Pop, do secure a head count). While Pop art […]

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Apr
16

Art or Fart?

By awamally

During Art Basel miami beach, Andre 3000 and SCAD put together an exhibit at mana Miami. Titled “I Feel Ya: SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and Andre 3000 Benjamin” presented by SCAD Art Museum. A collection featuring Andres 47 jumpsuits which he wore throughout the Outcasts 20th reunion tour. The exhibit was accompanied by “Trumpets,” created by filmmaker Greg Brunkalla and painter Jimmy O’Neal. The purpose of ‘I Feel Ya’ is to get people thinking about random phrases, while building a connection between art, fashion, and film. The jumpsuits are a direct way for Andre to share his […]

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Apr
9

The Responsibility of Artists: An Interpretive Analysis of Coco Fusco

By justinandrews

Famed linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky once wrote that it was the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies, especially in the context of the lies perpetuated by the dominant politico-economic power structure.  One could argue that a similar responsibility exists for artists:  In their works, artists must not only create art that is set against the backdrop of the current era, but must create art that actively critiques and challenges the status quo.  Artists must ruthlessly expose all that is rotten in society and call upon people to demand a better state of affairs. Not […]

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Mar
23

Flux With Us

By Mischa Kegan

WACTAC had the privilege to meet with one of the founding members of the Fluxus movement, Ben Patterson to talk about his life and work as an artist/musician. WACTAC interviewed him in the on going series Top 5 to talk about his favorite noises. WACTAC also performed Ben Patterson’s piece entitled Pond (1962) in the gallery.

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Mar
19

Dispatch: National YoungArts Week

By Mike Massey

From Teen Programs Affiliate Michael Hansen: It’s 6:42 AM. I’m walking around the MPLS – STP airport with a bottle of overpriced iced tea in my right hand. I feel numb. I’m wearing an orange t-shirt with the words “YOUNGARTS” scrawled across the front in some abnormal font.  I’ve been awake for a good three hours with nothing but a ration of granola in my system. I arrive at my gate and immediately spot a girl wearing a shirt identical to mine. She looks at me and smiles. She tells me that her name is Nicole, she’s from California, and […]

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Feb
25

WACTAC Meeting 2/12/15

By Calvin Hafermann

This past week, we once again met with artists Chrys Carroll and Nicole Smith known together as Dig In, who we have been working and meeting with for the past couple of months.  At this particular meeting, we glazed clay bowls we had created, based off of the begging bowls used by Buddhist monks.  For Buddhist monks, these bowls are receptacles for community donations of food that provides the monks daily sustenance.  For us, the bowls were meant more to represent how we will take care of ourselves and do what makes us happy, what Chrys and Nicole referred to […]

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Feb
19

Ava DuVernay’s Selma

By sarahmaudegriffin

“We’re going to have awful seats.” My friend and I paced down the hallway of the Southdale AMC Theater, arriving on the dot to see the 8:10 showing of Selma. We reached our theater and were surprised, and, in my case, disappointed, to see that the theater was sparsely filled. It was opening night. To be fair, this was due largely to circumstance: it was a holiday weekend, the roads were awful, and there were multiple other movies opening that same night. Though the audience was less than I had expected that night, the movie was not. Ava DuVernay, the primary […]

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Dec
16

Students Hold Court

By lucycomer

On November 22nd, a gathering of approximately twenty-five people of high school and college age came together and had a conversation about an exhibition at the Walker right now; Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Our conversation was held at one of the pieces in the exhibition, the first one you see as you walk up to it, a long old table with eighteen chairs made of plastic and metal. They came from a former public elementary school in Chicago’s South Side, and now are setup in the exhibition as a classroom type setting in the gallery. The piece is called  See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding […]

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Nov
17

WACTAC to CAMHTAC

By janejackson

I’m not expecting palm trees. Not in Houston. In my mind, palm trees only exist in California, TV celebrity soaps, and Microsoft Clip Art. But there they stand, those disturbing trees, looming over my family’s rental car, 2:00am in the morning at the wrong hotel. And suddenly I know that palm trees will be to me what water is to cats; that unexplainable force that freaks and creeps me out beyond reason. It relieves me to see no palm trees stand anywhere near the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (CAMH). There are trees, though. Trees with branches decorated by pictures of […]

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Oct
30

The Problem with Halloween

By Mason Santos

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, Halloween is tomorrow, and for some of us (myself included) this means a quick stop to the store to create a last-minute costume for the holiday. However, as you get your costume together, keep in mind that there is a line between okay and downright offensive. Yep, I’m talking about cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and racism. Cultural appropriation is the act of taking a culture (that isn’t your own) and fixing it/changing it so it fits your life. Everyday Feminism has a fantastic article discussing it, as well as introducing the […]

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Oct
30

Music and Visual Aesthetics

By Calvin Hafermann

The accessibility of the internet has done many things to the music industry.  Obviously, it has enabled piracy of music, and it has enabled constant streaming via sites like Spotify or Pandora.  It has also given artists both big and small, nearly unlimited freedom; anyone can publish anything and it can be shaped exactly to the creators will.  I’ve noticed a few artists over the years taking advantage of this and crafting projects that are more than just music.  The artists design the visual aesthetic or merchandise for the band or create characters and worlds that transcend the music.  Here […]

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Oct
15

Museum Mixtape #5

By ingridtoppjohnson

  Museum Mixtape is back with a vengeance! For those of you who are unfamiliar, Museum Mixtape pairs a piece of art in the Walker’s collection, or one being exhibited there, with a piece of complementary music. In this edition, the art in question is the Cowles Conservatory located in the Walker’s Sculpture Garden. Since the conservatory is larger than much of the art surveyed in Museum Mixtape, it will be paired with three songs rather than one. The conservatory is a place for contemplation and escape. In the summer, the glass walls, imaginative plantings, and the giant fish sculpture […]

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Jun
20

A Visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

By Pablo Helm Hernandez

  While on vacation in L.A. with my family, My family and I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also known as LACMA. It was very cool to explore a different museum with a large quantity of modern art besides the Walker. The Walker I know inside and out, but the LACMA was like exploring the Walker for the first time all over again. We found a parking spot across the street from the museum in front of a sketchy, gated apartment community that looked more like they were trying to keep the residents in rather than […]

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Jun
13

Reflecting on Make a Stranger Laugh

By Calvin Hafermann

Those of you that went to Double Take back in April certainly heard about Make A Stranger Laugh.  Maybe one of your friends participated, maybe you yourself did.  While I would definitely consider the activity a success, it kind of took on a life of its own and turned into something new that we weren’t exactly expecting. First, a little background: Make A Sranger Laugh originally started as part of our collaboration with artist Jim Hodges.  A big aspect of Jim’s work is the use of simple yet beautiful gestures that communicate very human concepts or emotions.  We wanted to […]

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Jun
3

GIVE US YOUR LAUGH

By lexiherman

Give Us Your Laugh was derived from Jim Hodges’s Give More Than You Take. We had an ongoing conversation with Jim that evolved into an exploration of universality through laughter. At our spring event, Double Take, we explored our concept both through Give Us Your Laugh and Make A Stranger Laugh. Both are exchanges between people in laughter that create a commonality. We attempted to embody Jim’s simplistic gestures with our thought provoking prompt “Give Us Your Laugh”. The materials were inspired by Jim’s A Diary of Flowers. The flowers were presented on random paper napkins using different colored inks. […]

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