Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Pop Life: Art in a Material World

Ottawa (Ontario) - February 17, 2010

From June 11 to September 19, 2010

A North American exclusive
at the National Gallery of Canada this summer

Pop Life: Art in a Material World explores the complex relationship between contemporary art, marketing and the mass media. Beginning with the late work of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987), the exhibition proposes a re-reading of his legacy and explores how some of today’s high-profile media-savvy artists have followed his lead, embracing celebrity and commerce as the foundation of their work. The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) is the sole North American venue for this unprecedented exhibition, which is organized by Tate Modern, London, in association with the NGC and on view from June 11 to September 19, 2010.

Pop Life: Art in a Material World features more than 250 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, videos, installations, multiples and other ephemera produced over the past three decades. Among the many artists represented are: American artists Andy Warhol Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Pruitt Early; British artists Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Turk, and Cosey Fanni Tutti; German artist Martin Kippenberger; Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan; Japanese artist Takashi Murakami; and Polish artist Piotr Uklański.

“This exhibition brings together important works by some of the most ambitious artists of the last twenty years, many of them household names in Canada, though hardly any of them have every shown here,” said Marc Mayer, NGC Director. “It is also a very timely show because the recession has hit the art world as hard as it has most other sectors. Some of these artists weathered the last economic downturn quite well and have yet to suffer much from this one. Pop Life examines their often controversial strategies for success.”

Andy Warhol’s legacy
The exhibition begins with Warhol’s notorious provocation that “good business is the best art.” Marketing and publicity provided a means for Warhol to engage in modern life beyond the confines of the studio, the gallery and the museum. Rather than simply representing or commenting on mass-media culture, Warhol deliberately infiltrated the publicity machine to cultivate an artistic persona. By performing as a partygoer, model, television personality, paparazzo and publisher, he harnessed the power of the celebrity system and expanded his reach beyond the art world and into the wider world of commerce.

Pop Life then looks ahead to the work of a number of artists who, like Warhol, have openly engaged with the cult of celebrity and unashamedly championed the idea of turning public attention into aesthetic notoriety and financial reward.

Pop Life highlights include:
Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986—With a shrewd understanding of publicity, Koons has built his reputation on a keen eye for images that appeal at the most basic level. Rabbit is a stainless steel sculpture based on a novelty balloon, which in turn was recreated as a giant inflatable for the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, bringing art to the masses in a spectacular form.

Keith Haring, Pop Shop, 1986—Keith Haring (1958-1990) made his name in the 80s when he took his chalk to the unsold advertising marquees of New York subway stops and popularised his “radiant child” signature logo. In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho where he sold T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his images, and which he considered to be an extension of his art. By painting the store’s entire interior with an abstract black on white pattern, Haring created a striking and unique retail environment frequented by celebrities and the average consumer alike. Facsimiles of the original Haring editions will be on sale in this reconstruction.

Jeff Koons' Made in Heaven, 1990—Made in Heaven, which debuted at the Venice Biennale in 1990, immortalized Koons’ marital union with the Hungarian-born porn star and Italian politician Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina. This series of sculptures and silkscreens secured the artist’s leading role on the international art stage and swept him into tabloid notoriety.

Martin Kippenberger, Candidature à une Retrospective, 1993—From his earliest days in Berlin’s punk scene, Kippenberger (1953-1997) shrouded his work in an aura of rebellious behaviour and bad boy provocation. Pop Life recreates the first room of his 1993 Pompidou exhibition and presents an eclectic mix of posters, paintings and objects that bears witness to his numerous social connections and artistic collaborations.

The Young British Artists (YBA)—As the principal organiser of the 1988 Freeze exhibition in London, Damien Hirst attracted major collectors to what was essentially a display of student work, and in the process launched the YBA phenomenon. Space devoted to the YBAs will focus on Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas’s shop in London’s East End where they created and sold their work. Renowned pieces such as Gavin Turk’s Pop 1993 will also be featured, as will selected works representing Damien Hirst’s 2008 Sotheby’s auction, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever. On auction were the artist’s signature formaldehyde sculptures, butterfly, spot and spin paintings, and medicine cabinets. The record-breaking sale totalled £111.5 million. The NGC will also restage Hirst’s 1992 performance from Cologne’s Unfair art fair: changing sets of identical twins will sit beneath two identical spot paintings for the duration of the exhibition.

Takashi Murakami’s Collaboration Addiction, 2009—A new installation by the celebrated artist Takashi Murakami will be on view in the exhibition's final gallery. With the launch of his multinational company Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd. in the early 90s, Murakami employed several hundred assistants to design and fabricate his fine art works and various product lines, forging a distinctively Japanese form of Pop Art. Murakami conceived his Pop Life gallery as a reflection of his collaborations with established designers and celebrities. It includes jewellery and accessories as well as a short film on Akihabara, Tokyo’s major shopping district for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods.

The exhibition is co-curated by Jack Bankowsky, Artforum’s Editor at Large, Alison M. Gingeras, Chief Curator of the François Pinault Collection and Catherine Wood, Tate Modern Curator of Contemporary Art and Performance, assisted by Nicholas Cullinan, Curator, International Modern Art, Tate Modern. Jonathan Shaughnessy, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, NGC is leading the exhibition’s presentation in Ottawa.

Pop Life: Art in a Material World is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue published by Tate Modern that includes essays by Jack Bankowsky, Scott Rothkopt, Catherine Wood, Nicholas Cullinan, and Alison M. Gingeras. The catalogue will be available for purchase in the NGC Bookstore and online at shopNGC.ca this summer.

Visit gallery.ca/poplife regularly to find updated tweets and video podcasts with curator Jonathan Shaughnessy, artists’ bios, and information on upcoming talks, tours, films, and workshops that will stimulate thinking, provoke discussion and challenge assumptions around art, life and the mass media.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Indigenous, Western and European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, American and Asian Art as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national, cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring exhibition programs in the world.

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Note to editors: The NGC’s online Media Centre, reserved exclusively for use by accredited journalists and other media representatives, provides a bank of images for Pop Life: Art in a Material World. The NGC has obtained copyright permission on behalf of the media but solely for editorial purposes directly linked to this exhibition. Register for online access.

For more information, please contact:

Marie Lugli
Acting Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Acting Manager,
Communications and Public Relations
National Gallery of Canada