Pop Life at the Tate Modern: Good Business is the Best Art

If Andy Warhol is known for his groundbreaking philosophy, the above statement is certainly one of its key founding thoughts and it is also the opening line of Pop Life, the latest exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

The exhibition, which before being named Pop Life, went through the potential names of “Sold Out” and “Warhol’s Children”, is an exploration of the neo-pop generation from the late 1970s to today, who all succeeded in turning their name into a brand, and whose work explores the relationship between art, commerce and pop culture.

Below is a visual summary of the most notable rooms after a fascinating visit at the Tate Modern today.

The initial room, as prologue to Pop Life, presents a few classics, including an Andy Warhol video used as a Japanese advertisement for a TDK tape along with Takashi Murakami‘s Hiropon piece and Jeff Koons‘s Rabbit.

Takashi Murakami – Hiropon (1997)

Takashi Murakami - Hiropon

Jeff Koons – Rabbit (1986)

Jeff Koons - Rabbit (1986), with Jeff Koons posing at the Tate Modern

After a second room setting the tone on the topic of commerce and money, with precious gems, an object of desire of Andy Warhol, presented through phosphorescent paint, the third room is called Worst of Warhol.
Interestingly, you learn through Warhol’s retrospective portraiture of the late 1970s, how he used to sell portraits for a fixed price and two at a discount, to every celebrity, which all contributed to his social climbing. Protraits all over the walls include Mick Jagger, Keith Haring, David Hockney, Joseph Beuys, Gilbert and George and Grace Jones, along with four multi coloured self portraits.

Andy Warhol - Portraiture

The fourth room, titled ‘After Art’ presents the Warhol brand extended into a range of divergent enterprises including publishing, music production and television. These formats introduced Warhol both as a producer and a cameo star. He was the only artist of his generation providing fodder for gossip columns.

Andy Warhol – Interview Magazine, the magazine he co-founded in 1969 dedicated to the cult of celebrity.

Interview 1972

Andy Warhol – Studio 54 VIP (1978)

Andy Warhol - Studio 54 VIP (1978)

Andy Warhol – Grace being painted by Keith

Andy Warhol - Grace being painted by Keith

Andy Warhol – BAD (1977)

Andy Warhol - BAD (1977)

In room 5, titled Live the Dream, a new generation born out of the East Village in New York was presented. Frustrated with conceptual art and minimalist art, they drew their inspirations from pop art throughout the eighties. The following few rooms are dedicated to them.

Meyer Vaisman – In The Vicinity Of History (1988)

Meyer Vaisman's In The Vicinity of History (1988)

Jean-Michel Basquiat / Andy Warhol – Sweet Pungent (1984)

Jean-Michel Basquiat _ Andy Warhol - Sweet Pungent (1984)

Following some deal of controversy, the Spiritual America piece by Richard Prince representing Brook Shields, photographed naked at 10 years old, was removed from the gallery at the demand of the British police. Richard Prince’s Spiritual America IV figures in the room, presenting Brook Shields as a woman.

Richard Prince – Spiritual America IV (2005)

Richard Prince - Spiritual America IV (2005)

Room 7 immerses you entirely into the famous Pop Shop of Keith Haring opened in 1986 in NYC to offer a range of merchandise branded with the artist’s  distinct visual style. Particularly entertaining is the “Pop till you drop” sign. The shop certainly was a successful method to attract an audience in a whole new way.

Pop till you drop at the Pop Shop by Keith Haring

Further installations were on display with German artist Martin Kippenberger‘s “Candidature a une Retrospective”, a rendition of a 1993 exhibition in Centre Pompidou Paris. The next room and installation is the current talk of the town. Available to 18+ only, it features Jeff Koons’s self promoting work, Made in Heaven, gathering a series of nuptials with Hungarian porn star and polititian Ilona Staler, who later became his wife.

Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven Suite

Jeff Koons' Made in Heaven Suite - Pop Life @ Tate Modern, London

Cosey Fanni Tutti Magazine Actions was the subject of the next room, presenting the model’s participation from 1973 to 1980 in the glamour and pornographic industries. Again somewhat controversial –one of her most renowned exhibition was called Prostitution– she came at the time as a crosscurrent to feminism.

Cosey Fanni Tutti Magazine Actions

Almost Infamous: Young British Artists. This is the name of the room (number 11) featuring the coming in the early 1990s of the NYC scene to London, with the introduction of local art students to the American market, including the birth of a new icon, Damien Hirst.

Gavin Turk – Pop (self-portrait of Turk as Sid Vicious). A twist on Warhol’s portraits of Elvis.

Gavin Turk - 'Pop', 1993

Damien Hirst – Ingo, Torsen. One of the artist’s early works in 1992. The piece includes the involvement of two twins, which have been invited to come and participate by the Tate Modern for slots of four hours each.

Damien Hirst - Ingo, Torsten (1992)

Room 12 is dedicated to Damien Hirst’s historical auction in 2008, which happened at the same time as the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and still managed to attract a large number of avid collectors, with a record breaking total sale of £111.4m. The pieces have themes from earlier on in the artist’s career with a creative addition of gold and silver elements providing a luxury twist.

Damien Hirst – Memories Of / Moments With You (2008)

Damien Hirst - Memories Of : Moments With You (2008)

Damien Hirst – False Idol (2008)

Damien Hirst - False Idol (2008)

Room 13 presented the ‘Red, Black, Green, Red, White and Blue’ exhibition of Rob Pruitt and Jack Early, rising stars of the early 1990s in the NYC scene, presenting posters of African American icons including Martin Luther king, Malcom X, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, the Jackson 5, N.W.A, all in a glitz golden room with music by the Jackson 5 and others. A showcase of the exploitation of black icons by corporate America in the politically correct climate of the time.

The subsequent room, still courting controversy, features Polish artist Piotr Uklanski’s Nazis, treating the ambiguous morality when the entertainment industry exploits historical subject matters.

Piotr Uklanski – The Nazis (1998)

Piotr Uklandski - The Nazis - 1998 - Courtesy of AFP:Getty images

Room 15 and 16 touch controversy respectively through making the artist-collector relationship a sexual intercourse, with Andrea Fraser, and with placing an dead horse on the floor impaled by an INRI flag, in the case of Maurizio Cattelan.

The last room of the exhibition is dedicated to one of our all time favourites, Takashi Murakami.  The most prominent piece is the “Giant Magical Princess! She’s walking down the Streets of Akihabara!”, a 2009 piece featuring a huge print rendering on the wall and a video featuring Kirsten Dunst.

Murakami launched Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. in the early 1990s in Tokyo, a Japanese version of the Warhol Factory with a distinctively Japanese form of pop art combining Japanese popular culture, anime and Manga. The artist’s distinctive treatment of space has been called Superflat. Murakami can simply move freely among fine art, fashion, pop music, animation and new media.

Murakami – The Simple Things (with Pharrell Williams) and Giant Magical Princess! She’s Walking Down the Streets of Akihabara! (2009)

Takashi Murakami : Pharrell Williams - The Simple Things, 2009 -- On back wall, Takashi Murakami - Giant Magical Princess! She's Walking Down the Streets of Akhibara, 2009

Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. now employs and develops a series of new artists, who are following his lead –I attended the Kaikai Kiki exhibition in Lyon, France, a year or so ago. As Warhol clearly realised at an early point in time, good business is the best art, and for that matter, we could also add that great art with an appealing message is indeed always good business.

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