The world may seem in turmoil today, but that’s nothing on the late Sixties and early Seventies. Looking back at those days through the prism of Tate Modern’s The World Goes Pop (until 24 Jan 2016) is a harsh reminder of how close it all got to going up in smoke. Pop is generally associated with American consumer culture, vibrant colours and sexy red lips, but in this fascinating exhibition the Tate curators have found a truly global phenomenon that responded to this, but wasn’t part of it at all.
I have to admit that when I first walked round, my heart sank and I thought how dated it all looks. But this is one where the more you know, the more interesting the work becomes. Many of these works were created half a century ago, some have been long forgotten and perhaps never made the waves the artists hoped. For example the Japanese poster image, which combines the garish colours of Pop with cowboy hats and geisha girls, was passed over completely in Tokyo in the Sixties, as the bemused elderly artist told us.
The politics of Pop is by far the most interesting section of the show, where Pop surfaced to describe the surging crowds of Paris riots, Spanish Fascism or oppression in Brazil and any number of Eastern European countries. With an atomic blow-up looming, we see JFK and Khrushchev face each other, bombs kissing, an Icelandic artist depicts the Viet Cong bursting into idyllic American interiors, as women struggle to get to grips with new-found freedoms. It all brings the Sixties back into sharp relief.