Post Pop at the Saatchi Gallery

ai weiwei sofa in white

I was last at the Saatchi Gallery for the Korean Eye show in 2012. But I was no less intrigued by their current offering, which looks at the spread of the Pop Art movement, especially its impact on the Soviet Union and China.

The exhibition is organised thematically, with artists from East and West shown side by side. But an artist can cover multiple themes, meaning different works by the same artist end up at opposite ends of the exhibition.

From Ai Weiwei (b.1957), we find Sofa in White (a marble armchair) under the “Habitat” theme, while Coloured Vases (Han dynasty vases covered in spray paint) is assigned to the “Art History” theme. I enjoyed comparing this presentation of his work with the Blenheim Palace exhibit of 2014, which featured some similar pieces – they had more visual impact in the all-white exhibition space but they felt less playful somehow.

Artists from China and Taiwan feature prominently in the section on “Advertising & Consumerism”. Wang Guangyi (b.1957) in his Great Criticism series combines Western consumer brands such as Benetton and Swatch with Chinese propaganda images, intimating their similarity of purpose. Michael Lin (b.1964) in his large acrylic paintings focuses on the presentation of individual Chinese brands, evoking the seductive power of marketing.

Also popular were the themes of “Ideology & Religion”, where Christian iconography butts up against Communist propaganda. I was drawn, though, to something more contemplative – Confucius’s Confusion, by Mei Dean-E (b.1954), a large textile piece in which the man’s beard flows out across the floor in great piles of white and black thread. There was one truly unnerving piece in this section, but by Russian artist Sergey Shutov, so I shan’t spoil the surprise.

This is a stimulating show, no question, but moments of aesthetic delight are rare. One notable exception is the installation United Nations – Man and Space by Gu Wenda (b.1955), best described as a huge cloth pavilion made of flags, where each flag is rendered from skeins of human hair. I’m not clear why this is Pop Art, but the lighting is just magical.

Post Pop: East Meets West
Saatchi Gallery, London
26 November 2014 to 3 March 2015

Above: Ai Weiwei, Sofa in White, 2011. Marble. Private collection. Photo: STF.

Below: Ai Weiwei, Coloured Vases, 2007-10. Han dynasty vases and industrial paint. Photo: STF.
ai weiwei coloured vases

Below: Wang Guangyi, Great Criticism: Swatch and Great Criticism: Pop, 1992. Oil on two canvases. Overall dimensions: height 250cm; width 360cm. Photo: STF.
wang guangyi great criticism

Below: Michael Lin, Yunnan Puer Tea, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. Height 300cm; width 200cm. Leo Xu Projects. Photo: STF.
michael lin yunnan puer tea

Below: Mei Dean-E, Confucius’s Confusion, 2003. Installation, mixed media. The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: STF.
mei dean-e confucius's confession

Below: Gu Wenda, United Nations – Man and Space, 1999-2000. Human hair, white glue, burlap. Photo: STF.
gu wenda united nations

Ju Ming arch at the Ashmolean

ashmo sculpture

The Ashmolean last year acquired a monumental sculpture by Taiwanese artist Ju Ming (b.1938).  I tried to photograph it a month or two back but the habitual greyness of the Oxford winter was not in my favour.  This week, however, the brilliant sunshine lit up the façade of the museum, creating a pleasing contrast between the very dark, organic surfaces of the piece, and the white and golden neo-classical masonry behind.

The sculpture, Taichi Arch, is made of bronze and belongs to a series on taichi, inspired by the physical and mental aspects of this ancient martial art.  The arch is an abstract form of tuishou, pushing hands, a two-person training routine in taichi.  In its current setting, it is a focal point of the forecourt, very much inviting the curious visitor to take a tour around it, and investigate the more secluded space within.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Permanent collection

Above: Ju Ming, Taichi Arch, 2000 3/8. Bronze. Ashmolean Museum. Donated by Juming Culture & Education Foundation in honour of Michael Sullivan. Photo: STF.