For most of us, the words ‘pop art’ conjure up graffitied images of Ché Guevara and enormous coke cans. Fundación PROA’s new exhibition of Argentine and Brazilian pop art bears all the familiar hallmarks of the movement but relocates the focus to the southern cone, where familiar bold fonts and cartoon images meet a carnal, visceral movement rooted in the wounds of dictatorship and repression.
This is a brutal yet beautiful exhibition, located deep in the heart of La Boca. Curated by Paulo Herkenhoff and Rodrigo Alonso it charts the links between Argentine and Brazilian pop art in the 1960s and showcases a movement which synthesises the political, social and cultural violence of the era as well as the roots of hope and revolution.
“Ideological clashes, military regimes, resistance struggles the dependence on foreign capitalism, urbanisation and the distinctive popular protestsi n these countries – this is the starting point for this fervent aesthetic and political study,” says Adriana Rosenburg, president of PROA.
“For the first time we are bringing together 59 artists from Brazil and Argentina and more than 150 works, photographs and documents from this movement.”
Western audiences have become increasingly inured to the stylised cartoon images and bold colours which define pop art and it’s easy to forget the political context behind the images which now adorn our aprons and sofa cushions.
For North American and British audiences in particular, for whom Lichenstein’s stylised spots reign supreme, the Coke cans and Ché Guevara images have lost their political and cultural reference points. Yet for Latin American audiences, these are powerful symbols of social and political change, and central to the pop art movement.
“South America produced two key symbols in these years, one local, in the form of Ché Guevara, who represents change, liberation and social revolution and another international, in the form of Coca-Cola which appears in general as a symbol of American imperialism and economic domination,” explains Rosenberg, in literature accompanying the exhibition.
The first room of the show is dedicated to these more familiar manifestations of the movement. It is filled with irreverent subversions of political and cultural imagery. The middle of the stylish room is consumed by a giant model plane suspended from the ceiling with a crucified Jesus attached to its wings. This piece, “La civilización occidental y cristiana” by León Ferrari, is flanked by a series of images of the Kennedys and a playful coke bottle installation.
However the second room introduces us to the darker, carnal themes of Argentine and Brazilian pop art. This work in this space is body-centred and deeply political, with references to torture, repression and social pain. Antonio Dias’ ‘Glutāo’ is typical, depicting a blood red figure with a set of abstract organs on display, brining to mind disturbing hints of physical pain and punishment.
The centre of the room features two disturbing sculptures, one resembling a giant misshapen sack and the other a garish knot of intestinal woollen tubes. The colours of the works here are less brash than the familiar cartoon style and have been created in a range of textures and mediums. As well as flat poster style pieces jammy canvases, thick with murky oil paints line the walls.
The third room continues this trend. Its walls are painted black and eerie noises drift from a video playing in the corner. This room features unsettling installations like Ivens Machado’s white tiled slab, plain apart from a light bulb in one corner and a bullet hole in the other with a dark trickle running from it. In another corner is a black veiled chair with spikes on the seat.
Violence – physical and political – lie close to the surface of these works and this movement in general. There are four rooms in total, displaying a wide range of styles and forms of pop art but all have been chosen to reflect these underlying themes and all display Argentine and Brazilian pop art at its politial best.
The exhibition has the added benefit of its PROA setting. An established art venue since 1996, the stylish building boasts panoramic views of La Boca’s industrial landscape and sprawling ports. The gallery is well known for its interesting take on contemporary Argentine art and also boasts an excellent library, bookshop and modern minimalist cafe with a roof terrace.
‘Pop…’ will remain at PROA until 16th September when the exhibition will move to the Oscar Niemeyer museum in Curitiba. In 2013 the show will relocate to the Bergamo Gallery of Contemporary and Modern Art before ending up in the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.
Entrance to the exhibition costs $12, for more information go to http://www.proa.org/esp/ or call 4104.1000