Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pop Will Find a Way

"Bambino," my partner, as many who know him understand, grew up in the USSR. I note this only to explain why his response to watching "Goodbye Lenin" was delightful for me. The movie's central character is a very pro-Communist, anti-West East German mother who wakes from a long-lasting coma. Her children are told that any shock (like the fact that while she was unconscious, the Berlin Wall fell, and that they now live in a very materialistic united Germany) could be fatal, so they arrange her life and what she sees in such a manner as to convince her that East Germany is still her home. There's a great scene where her children try to stock-up on all the Soviet-era labeled food their mother loves and end up having to fake most of them with old labels and such. While we watched this, Bambino was in stitches, reliving how good or how bad the various products were.

The fact that particular brands were as beloved and as much a part of everyday life under the umbrella of the Soviet Union as they were in the capitalistic West was a revelation for me. Wasn't part of the point of Communism to protect the populace from the evils of consumerism? Apparently it's all relative.

Alexander Kosolapov, The History, 1985, Acrylic, canvas. 50" x 80"

As the current exhibition ("Russian Pop Art") at the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow shows, not only was consumerism very much a part of the USSR, but it was so much so that Soviet artists had responded to it in much the way Western artists had, with Pop Art:

Warhol never suspected that his Russian contemporaries were finding beauty in the plain props of Soviet life and giving them the same adulatory treatment that he gave cans of Campbell's soup. Those works are featured in "Russian Pop Art," an exhibit organized by the Tretyakov Gallery's department for new currents in art, that opens Wednesday. On display will be over 250 works from the holdings of the Tretyakov, private collectors and Moscow galleries.

"Pop art is a certain set of ideas," Andrei Yerofeyev, head of the Tretyakov department behind the exhibition, said in an interview last week, dispelling the notion that Pop art is specific to American culture. Yerofeyev said that in order to be considered Pop art, a work must be figurative -- it must show an object -- and it must "speak the language of the masses." Russian Pop artists depicted doors, windows and appliances that were the stuff of domestic life in the Soviet Union.

Ironically, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the artist getting all the images in the press for this exhibition (Alexander Kosolapov [both images above are his]) uses mainly Western icons, but that may be more just an editorial choice by those doing the reporting. Here's one of his earlier pieces using a Soviet product:

Alexander Kosolapov, The Woman Bathing, 1975

As one report on this exhibition noted, there's lots of matchbox and bra brands represented among the 250 works in the exhibition. There's a pun somewhere in there about feminism, but I'm too loopy from allergies to find it.


Anonymous crionna said...

I do love the Ampelmanchen.

9/14/2005 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I do love the Ampelmanchen


But why do they look Amish?

9/14/2005 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

But why do they look Amish?

The hats?

9/14/2005 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Thank you for the post Ed.
It was a nice movie, and makes me miss those all times.
And on the other hand I am so optimistic nad hopefull about artists from Central Asia, since they got a lot of attention from Venice this year.

9/14/2005 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The hats?

Yes, it's the hats...but why those hats?

Thank you for the post Ed.

just thinkin' of you.

9/14/2005 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

but why those hats?

Cause, they're, ummmm, Amish hats? ;)

9/15/2005 03:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Is there something about the Amish and their relationship to "East Germany" and how East Germany feels about pedestrians that led the civic engineers to conclude the most efficient way to convey the idea of "pedestrian" to the populace was to use an Amish....

ah, forgeddaboutit...


9/15/2005 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

heh. I guess I really didn't mean an Amish hat, rather one shaped like those the Amish wear, flat top, widish brim. Pedestrian in the "plain" sense of the word perhaps.

Personally, I think the designer just liked the way it looked...

9/15/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Hans said...

The Ampelmännchen was in my childhood and Kindergarten-time very important. It made you see, what to do. "Bei Rot musst Du steh'n- Bei Grün darfst Du geh'n" (At Red you need to wait, At Green you may cross.) A lot of common people, as also artists or designers believed in a "better" social world, and did create things with a sort of warm social touch. You as Americans would get crazy, if you could see the "Sandmännchen" Sandman, TV-Show, what was every evening created for Eastgerman Kids. A link:

I am also a fan of Russian Pop Art, but more the earlier one. In the 80s was no risk anymore to do that, it was almost common and fashionable. Thats why Kosolapovs work is not very strong. It was mainstream then already.

9/18/2005 06:24:00 PM  

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