The exhibition Pop América, 1965–1975 brings together artists from across the Americas to reframe our understanding of Pop Art. Pop América is the first exhibition to unify Latin American and Latinx expressions of Pop and explore how its bold, colorful imagery and political potential was embraced by artists working across the hemisphere. Corinne Granof, Block Museum Academic Curator, served as the on-site curator of the exhibition which was organized by Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. Granof recently sat down with Clef Notes Magazine for a conversation about the exhibition
What was the initial impetus for bringing Pop América to the Block as part of the museum’s exhibition schedule?
The Block Museum at Northwestern University is the third and final venue for the touring exhibition, and we are excited for it to be on view in Chicago/Evanston, which is the largest metropolitan area of all three venues. While the exhibition will appeal to anyone interested in Pop Art in general, and the late 1960s, it will be meaningful for Chicago’s Latino/a/x communities. We are excited about opportunities the project has opened, such as partnering with the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen on programming.
As a university museum, The Block is committed to exploring art in connection to broader ideas and histories. Through the exhibition, we have been able to engage through visual culture with scholars working in art history, history, and Spanish and Portuguese.
The exhibit fits into the Block’s framework of looking at global modernisms over the course of the 2019–2020 year, and the museum’s broad, ongoing commitment to global art. Pop América is one of several exhibitions that explore new ways of looking at modernist approaches that were thriving beyond Europe and the United States to include aesthetic innovation throughout the Arab World and the Middle East, Turkey, India, and—with Pop América—Latin America. The Block Museum is committed to looking at art across time, culture, and place, and the 2019–2020 schedule promotes a broad approach to modernism.
What impact, if any, have the artists represented in this exhibition had on the genre of Pop Art?
In many artworks included in Pop América, there is a dialogue between artists working in the United States and artists working across the hemisphere.
While many are familiar with the treatment of the Coca-Cola bottle, for example, in the work of Andy Warhol, the symbolism of the Coca-Cola logo takes on a different dimension in the work of Antonio Caro, who fuses the logo with the Colombian flag in Colombia Coca-Cola to make a statement about the economic reach of the U.S. The work takes two familiar, recognizable icons, the Coca Cola logo and a color of the Colombian flag, to address the U.S. cultural and economic interventions in South America. The approach opens our eyes to more familiar Pop images, such as the Campbell’s soup can, and we can start to see the work in another light.
Similarly, seeing Roy Lichtenstein’s Explosion in proximity to Hugo Rivera-Scott’s Pop América, for which the exhibition is titled, we start to see Lichtenstein’s work through a more politicized lens. While the text on Rivera-Scott’s work can be thought of as a verb meaning to pop, or to explode, the idea of America and to think about a more expanded, hemispheric notion of the Americas, Lichtenstein’s work addresses on some level the impact and fears during the Cold War and the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
How does the exhibition reshape debates over Pop’s perceived political neutrality ?
Pop Art often emphasized the superficial, surface and appearance, an idea reinforced by such iconography as celebrities and fashion, consumer products, Coke bottles, and Campbell’s soup cans, comic books—any motif that comes from the world of popular culture. This playful spirit of Pop Art is also apparent in iterations of Pop from the Global South. However, using similar frames of reference, there is at times a more political inflection or outright critique that comes through in the Latin American expressions of Pop. At the same time, looking at this work through a different lens, we start to see the stronger political tendencies in U.S. Pop Art.
How do the works on view exemplify the Pop Art “movement” in Latin America?
The works in the exhibition are representative of Pop Art that was emerging in places like São Paolo, Buenos Aires, Havana, Santiago, and Mexico City, as well as in the United States. While it is not accurate to talk about Pop Art as a movement, in the exhibition we see artists working in ways that are similar in approach to Pop in other parts of the world, seen especially in stylistic features of bright, flat colors, representation of objects, signs, and symbols, iconography from consumerism, and an emphasis on surface and appearance. It is not necessarily a unified approach, but there is a shared sensibility.
Highlights in the exhibition include works by Felipe Ehrenberg, an artist whose colorful and playful collage uses simplified forms and color along with ambiguous symbols and numbers Caja no. 25495 (Box no. 25495); Antonio Dias’s The Illustration of Art/Un-Covering the Cover Up critiques the role of media in American culture; Rupert Garcia’s Unfinished Man [#8] is simplified in its forms and colors, and a powerful statement on race and class disparities in the U.S. Marisol’s Mi mamá y yo (My Mother and I) is colorful, bright, and monumental, but confrontational at the same time.
Where did the artists of Pop América find inspiration
The works in the exhibition are informed by specific conditions of their time and place, including political unrest and coups in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile and military dictatorships, student protests in Mexico City, and the social unrest throughout the region. In the exhibition, visitors will see artworks that emerge out of these various contexts, and using different visual strategies, such as conceptualism and mimimalism, along with Pop motifs and styles. It is a broad survey of various forms of Pop, but overall includes artists working in an exuberant and playful, and at the same time serious, spirit that provides a broader perspective on Pop Art, its forms and meanings.