Political Pop contrives unexpected juxtapositions. In its iconoclastic landscape, Maoist propaganda finds itself coupled with Coca-Cola logos, and the heroes of the Cultural Revolution are surrounded by corporate advertisements. Everywhere the ideology of socialism mingles with a celebration of capitalism. But... [more]
Political Pop contrives unexpected juxtapositions. In its iconoclastic landscape, Maoist propaganda finds itself coupled with Coca-Cola logos, and the heroes of the Cultural Revolution are surrounded by corporate advertisements. Everywhere the ideology of socialism mingles with a celebration of capitalism.
But are these moves ironic or genuine? Intention varies, depending on which camp of Political Pop produced the art: the movement is divided into those who mock and those who affirm the era of Mao. And then there are artists whose attitudes are utterly ambiguous. The work of Wang Guangyi, for example, at times seems to effuse an affectionate, nostalgic attitude toward Mao's propagandist projects, as if they were amusing artifacts of folk history.
One of Wang's compositions has serial Maos wearing bright coats printed with flowers, a euphoric expression on his face, floating in a joyous crimson medium. In another piece, deadly serious figures of the Cultural Revolution appear as brands alongside Kodak and Coca-Cola logos -- the aims of Mao's ideology are explicitly mocked. In both cases we get the sense that the Cultural Revolution has been divested of its oppressive power and become the subject of the artist's humor and irony. Of course the irony and humor are not without complicity in this decidedly ambiguous attack.
Obviously, Warhol is a major influence here. The simultaneous celebration and mockery of Mao and the Red Guard, and the repetitions of cultural icons that render them meaningless: all of these gestures can be found in Warhol's work. But Political Pop emerges from a context of socio-political tensions that are perhaps more complex than Warhol's own. In a country where communism is in the process of integrating capitalism, divergent attitudes will inevitably be intertwined. A kind of "double kitsch" emerges from this: the ideological kitsch of socialism meets the capitalist kitsch of popular culture.
These impulses toward reappropriation reappeared in the early 1980s, when the propaganda songs of the Cultural Revolution were transformed into popular hits and the fashionable youth donned the Red Guard uniforms their parents were once made to wear. Ironically, Political Pop underwent a nostalgic renaissance.
It's an enticing ambiguity, this gesture toward the political that simultaneously neutralizes every political program and lingers in the ambivalence of its own unarticulated aim. [show less]