Pop and the Traveling Image
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Pop and the Traveling Image

Evelyne Axell, Ice Cream, 1964

Chaired by curator Charlotte Cotton, this round-table discussion
conducted by e-mail considers the use and influences
of mass-media imagery on creative communities in Eastern
Europe, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

It features Martin Harrison, a key scholar of the painter
Francis Bacon (1909–1992), who brings a distinct perspective
on the artists and photographers who best embody Britain’s
short-lived parlay with Pop ideas; Hiroko Ikegami, who shares
her expansive knowledge of postwar Japanese art, including
the work of Tanaami Keiichi (b. 1936); and Tomáš Pospiszyl,
whose research into art practices in Eastern Europe of the
1950s and 1960s includes work on the scrapbooks of Július
Koller (1939–2007), largely produced in Bratislava.

The traveling mass-produced image, whether sourced from
a specific culture or from the waves of US cultural expansion,
was of course shaped by the geopolitical climate faced
by artists in different locales, something the discussion highlights
while also noting various examples of the emergence
of various differing proto-Pop sensibilities. Also, considering
the impulse to manipulate but also simply to collate mass-media
imagery, and the overall currency of artists’ scrapbooks,
distinctions are drawn by the contributors between the active
communities of photographers attempting to forge an
artistic identity for that medium and artists who used photographic
imagery to less specific ends. Another key strand
developed here is the relative marginalization of women
artists within the story of international Pop; included is an
initial exploration of their contributions. Cumulatively, the
round-table manifests the immense diversity of Pop, and
gives insight into the manifestations of this powerful period
in twentieth-century visual culture.

Charlotte Cotton

There is a case to say that since the mass deployment of printing
technologies and then photographic printing processes,
artists have been responding to their own versions of “image
explosions.” One of the reasons why I think the International
exhibition is so timely is that it provides a precedent for
current artistic explorations of a vibrant media ecology. Could
you elaborate on the image environment in the 1950s and
1960s? Which artists navigated by using mass-media imagery
and even deployed media strategies?

Tomáš Pospiszyl

Besides the globally growing influx of images in printed
media, an important context for artists in Eastern Europe
was their specific use and understanding of these images.
Eastern European countries were occupied by Nazi Germany
in World War II and afterward went under Communist rule.
These political regimes strongly controlled all types of media.
German propaganda lied about the nature of the war, and
Communist propaganda lied about its totalitarian character.
Since the 1940s, no one sane believed what was presented
in newspapers, magazines, in films or, later on, television.

Not only advertising but all journalism was observed with
strong skepticism. Every sentence, every image had to be
decoded for its hidden meaning.

How could you represent a true image of the world? That
was the question of the day. Many writers and artists found it
impossible to describe their war experiences. These were beyond
traditional expressive means, long corrupted by advertisement
and propaganda. After the war and well into the 1950s and
1960s (and probably with this shared skepticism), we can see
growing interest in diary-type works both in European literature
and the visual arts. Artists were no longer narrators but rather
witnesses or collectors of already existing words and images.
Collage, both in literature and visual arts, was their medium
of choice. Suddenly, it was enough to cut out an image from
its original context in a magazine to reveal its double coding.

Discrepancy between the content of the mass media and
individual everyday experience was disturbing, and especially
in the case of photography. This “mechanical” tool, seemingly
depicting the world in a direct manner, was clearly capable of
creating strongly contradictory meanings. This was not a new
discovery, but in the postwar years led to a strong mistrust of
images. Many artists wanted to understand the grammar of
their meaning as well as the rules of propaganda and mass
media. I believe this is true not only for artists with Eastern
European experience, such as the Czech Jiří Kolář or the
German Gerhard Richter in his early image collecting, but
was of more general incidence. More artists around this time
realized that picture advertisements and photojournalism
were mere containers for meaning. They were learning how
to use them as vessels for their own expressive goals, often
arriving at subversive or political results.

Martin Harrison

In Britain, artistic practice of the kind we’re discussing in
the late 1950s emerged, to a great extent, from the various
discourses that had originated with the Independent Group
(IG) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.
The IG lasted, effectively, only from 1952 to 1955, disseminating
thinking on art (and architecture and design) and
the mass media. Even to acknowledge the mass media in
postwar Britain was a very radical move, and the constituency
for the IG’s ideas was tiny. I would guess, for example, that
they represented the entire audience in the UK for Marshall
McLuhan’s 1951 The Mechanical Bride.

Given that the history of collage can be traced through
Synthetic Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism, and that these
movements had little impact in Britain, Kurt Schwitters’s
exile in England from 1941 to 1948, though scarcely noticed
at the time, was a significant historical coincidence, with its
impact manifested later. Eduardo Paolozzi made his first
collage of American “Pop” advertising imagery, I Was a Rich
Man’s Plaything
, in 1947, and his Bunk collages were projected
at the IG’s first session, in 1952. The extent to which
Paolozzi (and his IG colleagues) was presenting them unmediated
(i.e., as merely documenting kitsch) is complicated.
The IG’s attitude to the United States, from the viewpoint
of gray-austerity Britain, has perhaps been misrepresented
in recent scholarship. America’s plenitude was undeniably
a great attraction (that food, those gadgets, the cars), and it
is not always straightforward, in post-postmodernist 2014,
to reconcile this with the critique that was also breeding
within the IG. Abstract Expressionist painting was being
embraced at the IG and ICA, and Lawrence Alloway was
writing seriously about American movies. Yet simultaneously,
the mainstream press in the UK was publishing articles
that warned against the dangerous influence of American
comics on British children. Some interesting questions
reside in this dichotomy.

Hiroko Ikegami

The way Japanese artists responded to their media environment
is deeply related to their wartime experiences.
The whole country was full of anti-Allies propaganda and
censorship to justify what the military called the “Great
East Asia War.” This was the shared experience for everyone.
With Japan’s defeat, then, they experienced another
kind of propaganda to transform Japan from a militaristic
country into a democratic one, with U.S. forces occupying
Japan under General Douglas MacArthur as the Supreme
Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP).

Most of the Tokyo Pop artists were born in the 1930s and
grew up with the war propaganda without really questioning
it: the artist Okamoto Shinjiro even created a pro-war
slogan at school: “Build peace in Asia by beating the U.S.
and Great Britain.” During their interviews with me, many of
them recalled their experiences of horrifying U.S. air raids
(which were ironically quite beautiful to watch, they often
added) and their subsequent amazement at how quickly
imperialist Japan refashioned itself into a peace-loving,
democratic country upon defeat. As a consequence, this
generation grew up to be called the “generation of distrust.”

Yet these artists were still really young–studying at middle
school or even at grade school–when the war ended.
So many of them absorbed American culture with little
resistance, internalizing it as their own, while many of them
deliberately assumed non-political or ironical attitudes in
their work as artists. This ambivalence—their infatuation
with American Pop culture, combined with political irony—
is a main feature of works of Tokyo Pop.

However, there are actually very few instances in the
late 1950s and 1960s in which artists directly incorporated
mass-media imagery as raw materials into their work, as
the late 1950s saw a peak in gestural abstraction, followed
by the Anti-Art wave of the early 1960s, when many artists
experimented with junk materials and three-dimensional
assemblages. Surrealism had a big impact in prewar Japan,
and postwar artists associated the mode of collage with the
Surrealist spirit. For instance, Okanoue Toshiko, who was
active for only a few years in the 1950s, made a series of
amazing collages based on American magazines such as Life
and Vogue, which U.S. soldiers and their families left behind
upon their departure. But her creation reveals a distinct affinity
with European Surrealism, not American pop culture.
The same can be said about Akasegawa Genpei’s collages
from the early 1960s. The only example of working with
mass-media imagery in a Pop context is Tanaami Keiichi’s
scrapbooks, which I will discuss later.

It does not mean the rest of Tokyo Pop artists were
unaware of media strategies. In fact, they were all quite
media-savvy, thinking about how to take advantage of the
mass media in promoting their work. Shinohara Ushio represents
this endeavor. He was constantly featured in weekly
journals, sometimes appearing on TV shows as a poster boy
of unbridled youth culture during this period. As a market
for contemporary Japanese art practically did not exist in
Japan at the time, Shinohara and his fellow artists tried to
make themselves visible in the mass media by deploying
media strategies in a more performative manner.


Let’s develop Hiroko’s final point further and what you call
the “expressive goals” of artists, Tomáš. I am wondering
whether news media and advertising imagery was being
treated as a raw material, albeit a heavily coded and mistrusted
one. I also wonder if you see mass-media modes (of
dissemination, rapidity, reproducibility) beginning to filter
into the processes of making art. I am essentially interested
to know if you see the dynamic of these Pop practices as
drawing the media environment into a quite predetermined
space called “art” or whether it was an act of recalibrating
the modalities of art using the language of media. I am
also interested to hear your thoughts on the more private
manifestations of this impetus—i.e., scrapbooks—and if
you think that other concepts were being worked out by
artists using this somewhat private form of visual thinking.


To start from the end, I think artists’ scrapbooks constitute
a truly fascinating medium. They show how visual thinking
in the mid-twentieth century changed and how this “recalibration”
of art practice took place. Visual archives, picture
constellations, or scrapbooks of image clippings were created
by artists as diverse as Joseph Albers, Hannah Höch,
and George Grosz already in the decade before the war.

It is clear that even these were inspired by contemporary
magazine design, especially so-called picture-saturated
pages, or whole publications such as Life magazine after
1936. (The connection is clear from the fact that scrapbooks
by Höch or Grosz were done directly in their copies of Die
and New Yorker magazines, respectively). But these
remained early, mostly private endeavors.

As with many great shifts in art, postwar artists were
initially drawn to photojournalism or advertisements with
no rational motivation, maybe even on the sideline of their
main artistic careers. An interesting and telling circumstance:
Eduardo Paolozzi publicly projecting his Bunk series and
other collages by epidiascope, which means presentation not
as traditional art objects but mere temporary projections. I
wonder what status the physical collages had for him at this
point—scripts for further exploration? Similarly, Jiří Kolář
and his circle were meeting in Prague on a regular weekly
basis around 1950, sharing their collages as if these were
visual diaries to be further discussed. Not only selected
news clippings or cutout advertising images but also early
Pop production as a whole was probably not understood
as art but as a material to be further processed.

An early Pop artist was originally a Pop culture viewer.
Being a producer and consumer was never so close. I
imagine Paolozzi and others firstly fascinated by advertisements
and magazine covers, observing them for a long
time. What makes Pop different from collages and picture
accumulations by Höch or Grosz is the attempt to transfer
modalities of the mass media into art, basically realizing
that no further processing is necessary. Creators of Pop
scrapbooks are often appropriating whole pages, because
they already are complete collages, both in a formal and
conceptual sense. All you have to do is to translate them
from the context of mass media into the context of art by
gluing them onto a piece of white paper. I do believe that
this alone has political implications. A work of art, once
a place of truth and authenticity, is intuitively reduced to
empty and uniform mass-media elements. And it turned
out to be a very successful strategy to remain critical and
subversive toward the modern culture industry.


Let me start with the scrapbook, too. As I said earlier, Tanaami
Keiichi seems to be a rather exceptional figure working in
this mode among the Tokyo Pop artists. As Tomáš summed
up very well, clipping images as a method of art-making was
well established by the 1930s, and many Japanese artists and
photographers worked in that mode in the prewar years,
before the method was appropriated for wartime propaganda.
Tanaami’s uncle, who died in World War II serving
as a soldier, had an enormous trove of magazines from the
1930s, including not only Japanese popular magazines but
also Fascist propaganda from Europe (he recalled that they
were impeccably designed), which Tanaami had access to
as a small child, and used as raw materials for his collages
when he grew up.

His immersion in the prewar media images was then mixed
with the postwar inflow of American mass-culture imagery,
and this enormous amount of imagery became a foundation
of his visual memory and database. However, it was only
after 1969 that he started making a series of scrapbooks. I
think this marks an interesting contrast to the examples of
Paolozzi and Kolář. That year, he traveled to New York for
the first time and shipped numerous cheap magazines—
including pornographic ones—back home, which he used
for collages. In some instances, he used the whole page of
a magazine as he found it perfectly designed in its totality,
and in others he juxtaposed unrelated images, to see how
different meanings are drawn from juxtapositions. He was
perfectly aware of the montage method of Sergei Eisenstein
and how images were manipulated in the media.

To reply to the first part of your question, about media
modes exploited in the art-making process, that was the
precise question Tanaami was interested in as a graphic
designer. In 1966 he published his first artist’s book, Portrait
of Keiichi Tanaami
, which consisted of the repetition of a
schematic self-portrait. A self-portrait image was amplified
endlessly, in a way that is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s
manipulation of his own image. It was Tanaami’s belief that
this “book” was a valid artwork in itself, and could reach a
much wider audience with a greater dissemination speed and
reproducibility than a traditional work of art. The same can
be said about his second artist’s book, An Illustrated Book of
Imaginary Tomorrow
, in which he incorporated mass-culture
imagery and the image of TV monitors in large quantity.


I don’t think I stressed sufficiently that only one member of
the IG was a (I was going to say bona fide, but even this is
up for dispute) painter—Richard Hamilton. This becomes
important if we compare Britain and the IG to proto-Pop
in the United States (or, say Nouveau Réalisme in France,
Baj and Rotella in Italy). While collage was important in
Paolozzi’s practice, he was principally a sculptor, as was
William Turnbull. The other members were architects,
historians, or polemicists, and Nigel Henderson was, significantly,
a photographer. Here we come to some pregnant
cultural crossovers: Turnbull had trained, from the age of
seventeen, as a commercial illustrator at D.C. Thompson
comics; Toni del Renzio became an art director of fashion
magazines; Frank Cordell recorded the Pop music hits of the day—
the rigorous intellectual core of much IG thinking
was balanced by hands-on involvement with media they
also critiqued. In Britain, Pop art of the late 1950s and
1960s was created mainly by students and former students
of London’s art schools, particularly the Royal College of
Art, and art directors of the more “avant-garde” magazines
shared the same lineage. The “new” photography was more
diverse in its origins.


I’d like to stay with the area of the scrapbooks in this next
question. The way I am reading your response, Tomáš, is
that the scrapbooks were not simply or even primarily private
but were a way of opening up the discourse within the
“first readers” of Pop strategies, the close-up audience for
not only the stance of artists re-embodying the modalities
of their contemporary image world but also the dynamic of
such radical artistic practices. The way you are describing
the role of scrapbooks really makes the point that Pop was
an artist-led movement and that the scrapbooks can be
read as iterative forms of the ideas that were circulating
within it. I’m interested to know if these comments resonate
with you, and also whether you think that the spirit of the
scrapbooks is found in the more definite works created for
a wider public.


The scrapbooks’ first readers and even their creators were
a much more diverse group than just visual artists. Kolář
and his circle were mostly poets. Poets from Wiener Gruppe
in Vienna were—in the mid-1950s—producing collages
indistinguishable from the content of early Pop scrapbooks
by artists. Even Bertolt Brecht in his Kriegsfibel treated Life
magazine photos in a proto-Pop manner. From the point of
view of the 1950s, scrapbooks were missing some important
properties of art: they were not original, they dealt with
kitsch, and one does not need any special skills to make them.

These qualities that we appreciate today are mostly missing
from later Pop works created for wider audience and
art-world contexts: paintings by Hungarian artists Gyula
Konkoly or László Lakner, to stay with examples in Eastern
Europe, may be derived from magazine clippings, but are
hand-painted and therefore “original,” having an undeniable
craft value.

The argument for the importance of scrapbooks goes
beyond visual art. Similar techniques of appropriation
and content détournement are at the same time employed
by experimental literature—writers and artists overlap in
their interests. Also, everything gets more intricate when
you juxtapose two or more images. Associations create new
meaning, not far from the way cinematic montage works.
I believe early Pop was also a reaction to principles of
moving images (film, television). Many early Pop collages
are in fact carefully orchestrated sequences of images.
They are intended to be read as a sort of visual text of the
high-modernist era.


This question really puts a finger on it. As the situation varied
from one country to another, I think “art” and “Pop” meant
different things in different locales. In 1960s Japan, “Pop”
almost exclusively meant “American Pop art,” and artists
were always conscious and weary of the fact that they were
regarded as the followers of the movement rather than leading
it. Importantly, the system of “art” probably functioned
differently in various regions, too. So when you say, “Pop
was an artist-led movement,” it makes me pause, because:
a) Japanese artists were marginalized in the 1960s’ power
dynamics of the world art scene; and b) the positions of
graphic designers such as Tanaami and Yokoo were further
marginalized in the Japanese art system.

For instance, although he was a big celebrity on the 1960s
cultural scene, and his posters, designs for magazine covers,
and animation films constitute an important part of Tokyo
Pop from today’s vantage point, Yokoo at the time always
felt uneasy with his status as a “mere” (but rich) designer
as opposed to a “proper” (but poor) artist. Tanaami in fact
never exhibited his scrapbooks (although they actually
consisted of accomplished collages). No critics or galleries
showed interest in these works, so he just tucked them away
in storage, only to rediscover them in 2012 and 2013. I find
this pretty scandalous!

However, Tanaami did incorporate the spirit of scrapbooks
in a more public form: his animation works. He cut and
pasted numerous mass-media images with real commercial
sound effects in his 1971 animation, Commercial War. The fact
that this ironical work of media critique was commissioned
by a television talk show and actually aired on TV is very
important, as it was viewed by millions of people. This itself
has an immense political implication.


How would you describe the photography community in
your region at this point in time? I’m interested to know
whether you can see connections between the creatives
(who came from many creative fields and discipline trainings)
who were defining Pop’s relationships and uses of
mass photographic imagery and the community that was
interested in legitimizing the discipline of photography as
an artistic and independent practice. Do you think that the
photographic community was connected or quite separate
from the emergence of Pop ideas in the late 1950s and 1960s?


Photography in the UK in the 1950s was once succinctly
described by Mark Haworth-Booth as a “black hole.” What
he meant by this was that there was no figure of a comparable
stature to, say, Robert Frank, William Klein, or Ed van
der Elsken. (Klein, I might add, trained as a painter under
Fernand Léger and made large, high-contrast, abstract
environmental paintings in Milan before taking up photography.)
In England, Roger Mayne had helped to inspire
a few aspiring documentarists and photojournalists in the
1950s, but there was little else to counter the prevailing
tropes of outmoded pictorialism and crass commercialism.

The ICA’s protean agenda embraced exhibitions such as
Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1952, Painting into Textiles in 1953,
and Collages and Objects in 1954. In an ICA debate on photography
in 1952, the photographer-turned-painter Peter
Rose Pulham presciently declared: “The perfect photo is of
a national calamity, when the camera is knocked out of the
photographer’s hand, develops itself in the gutter, and is
immediately published in the newspapers, where its impact
as a smudged image is immediate.” Nigel Henderson was
another subtly pervasive influence. He regarded the photographic
negative as analogous to a musical score, and the
print (through complex modification in the enlarger) as the
“performance.” He, too, was already questioning notions of
authorship, buying old lantern slides from antique shops
and manipulating them beyond recognition; it was his
copy of Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box that was influentially
circulated among his colleagues.

Henderson’s photographs in the 1953 exhibition Parallel of
Life and Art
(organized jointly with Paolozzi and the architects
Alison and Peter Smithson) juxtaposed widely disparate
imagery in a nonhierarchical manner: “images” mediated
through the democratizing medium of photography were
intended to convey meaning, irrespective (as Alloway, the
most articulate promoter of proto-Pop culture, would put
it) of whether it was “highbrow” or “lowbrow” in origin. If
this reading surprises those familiar with more politicized
versions of Pop’s prehistory, the IG’s theories devolved
principally on the desire to demolish the status of “high
art” as an elite cultural activity. The legacy of the IG’s theory
and practice, which permeated “rawness” and “authenticity”
above traditional pictorial values, would profoundly affect
“fine” art and photography. We can gauge this effect in the
RCA’s magazine ARK.

From its inception in 1950, ARK is best described as eclectic.
In issue 17, in 1956, a sea change was announced: it contained
articles by Lorenza Mazzetti on “Free Cinema,” Alloway
on “Technology and Sex in Science Fiction,” Henderson’s
photographs, and, significantly, Robyn Denny on “Collage.”
By 1957, polite neo-Elizabethan cover illustrations had given
way to Tony Bisley’s blurred black-and-white photographs.
Denny was one of the students who would be identified with
the emergence of British Pop art from the RCA (along with
Peter Blake, David Hockney, Richard Smith, Derek Boshier,
and Peter Phillips), an apotheosis that was complete by 1962.
The transformation was reflected not only in painting but
right across the media—in photography, graphic design,
television, advertising, magazines, and film. Recognition of
New York’s art-world hegemony in the 1950s underscored
much of what happened in the UK, a shift symbolized when
Alloway moved to New York in 1961 to become senior curator
at the Guggenheim Museum. This is necessarily a very
simplified account of complex events, but art and the communications
media had been opened up so that by 1962, the
UK could approach the 1960s with a new confidence.

Some historical markers: from 1960, art-school-trained
art directors such as Tom Wolsey provided crucial contexts,
in magazines, for the emergence of, for example,
David Bailey, Terence Donovan, and Don McCullin. By
the late 1960s, there was Bill Jay straddling two different
directions as features editor of the Telegraph magazine and
editor of Creative Camera (from 1968) and Album (1970). The
photographer analogues to that change would be Raymond
Moore (who had trained as a painter at the RCA) and Tony
Ray-Jones. The latter died young, of course, but his heirs,
as “independent” photographers (i.e., not tied to magazines
or advertising), were figures such as Chris Killip and Martin
Parr. The resurgence of this documentary strand, ostensibly
unfettered by commerce, was articulated by Bill Messer in
U.S. Camera Annual in 1977 as “The British Obsession: About
to Pay Off?”


It is clear that every country was in its own situation. In
my region, 1950s photojournalism and the ways in which
images were treated in magazines had little or no impact on
progressive art. Professional photographers and designers
of that time were very remote from artistic circles. Some remarkable
photo-experiments were done by “amateurs” and
were not exhibited or taken seriously for years. Then in the
1960s, many artists—meaning painters and sculptors—got
jobs as graphic designers and illustrators. They were taking
these commissions mostly for the money but also used this
opportunity to show what they were working on and were
often not allowed to show in official galleries. So there are
all these Czech book covers from early 1960s in the style of
Abstract Expressionism or Art Informel—an absurdity given
the size of a book! And almost none of them worked with
photography! It was not considered “artsy” enough. I believe
many of the impulses that made artists around the world differentiate
photographic imagery lasted for decades, especially
in areas asynchronous to Western Europe or the United States.
Another artist who has not yet been addressed in the context
of Pop is Július Koller, a Slovak artist of very diverse output,
usually connected with conceptualism. From the mid to late
1960s, Koller was assembling a large visual archive that, by
the end of the millennium, entirely filled his apartment. His
cutouts from magazines and pictures of film stars are carefully
adjusted on plain white paper and are pure Pop for me.


Although the photographic community in Tokyo in the 1960s
was quite separate from the art community, photographers
did respond to American Pop in a way that was different from
artists and graphic designers. For instance, Moriyama Daidō
serialized his Accident series in a weekly journal in 1969 and
1970, inspired by Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. He also
photographed a supermarket in Tokyo filled with imported
American products, as well as creating a Polaroid photograph
of a woman’s lipstick. Taki Kōji, who was also active as a
critic, published repeated image of portraits in Provoke, an
experimental photo magazine, of which Moriyama was also
a member. In fact, the representative style of Provoke, known
as are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus)—has resonance
with the blurry effects of Warhol’s silkscreen paintings.

Having listed all these artists’ names, I now feel the strong
urge to point out that the examples we’ve been discussing so
far are about mass images basically seen though male gazes.


Eastern European art of the 1950s and 1960s was strongly
male-dominated and the situation started to change only in
the 1970s. Women artists were accepted as muses or artists’
life partners at best. A good example is Běla Kolářová, wife of
Jiří Kolář. It was only in the last two decades that her amazing
work was fully recognized, living for years in the shadow of her
husband. Her contribution does not consist of a body of work
based entirely on Pop aesthetics but includes many shared
elements, such as the use of objects, imprints, collages in the
widest sense—organizing and editing rather than conceiving
and constructing definite works of art.

The representation of women was stereotypical, as shown,
for example, in the Slovak artist Stano Filko’s work. One of his
largest series from 1960s and 1970s is entitled Venus, connecting
ancient female archetypes with images from contemporary
media. It may sound somewhat bizarre, but for many artists, a
single issue of a Western pornographic magazine could serve
as source material for several years.


Japanese Pop art was male-dominated, too, and women artists
were in general so marginalized (more so than graphic designers)
that they were often invisible. For instance, Kishimoto
Sayako, who was the sole female member of Japan’s shortlived
Neo-Dada group, active for only six months in 1960,
was not treated well by her male colleagues (Shinohara and
Akasegawa were members of this group), and her work from
this period is lost. Around 1970, however, she created a Pop-style
painting, which was included in a museum show for the
first time in 2005.

In the context of Pop, Tabe Mitsuko, a member of another
male-dominated collective, Kyūshū-ha, is probably
the most important female artist in Japan. One of her 1961
Placard series features the Stars and the Stripes with images
of shoe soles, magazine clippings, and her own kiss marks,
in a way clearly critical of the U.S. Army’s presence in
postwar Japan. This work is simultaneously proto-Pop and
proto-feminist—an amazing accomplishment in the early
1960s Japan. She exhibited it with her sculpture Artificial
, visualizing her belief that women’s liberation
needed to address the issue of childbirth. I think her work
compares very interestingly with that of other female Pop
artists, such as Evelyne Axell, Rosalyn Drexler, Niki de Saint
Phalle, and Pauline Boty, who all dealt with a woman’s body
and its mass-media representation in their work as a way
to reclaim their ownership.

Yet the female body—especially that of the American woman—
was a particular subject for Tokyo Pop artists. Here, race
and ethnicity become tricky issues, involving the complex
desire of Asian men for possession of white women, if only
in imagination. Tanaami’s endless depiction of images of
American women, for instance, was often juxtaposed with
those of American fighter planes, making another reference to
his wartime memories. The critic Ishiko Junzō discussed the
proliferation of glamorous Western women’s images in postwar
Japanese Pop culture as counterpoints to the wartime idea
and representation of moral women. This pairing of wartime
“Empire’s mother” versus postwar “foreign woman” helps us
understand the representation of women by Tokyo Pop artists,
which is often tinted simultaneously with adoration and fear
of the bodies of white American women.


Finally, I would like to ask you about the legacy of these
proto-Pop and Pop strategies in your regions. Did they create
an indelible or direct lineage that you see being played out
in the local modalities of contemporary art, or was it more
of a demarcation that “cleared the air” and gave permission
for other artistic practices?


As the global trend of Pop art waned by the end of 1960s,
it would be difficult to see a direct, continuous lineage
between Tokyo Pop and Japanese contemporary art. In
fact, Takashi Murakami, the star of Japanese Neo-Pop, was
looking to Warhol as his model rather than to Japanese
artists. However, their strategies were not so dissimilar.
Murakami and another celebrated Neo-Pop artist, Nara
Yoshitomo, took advantage of Japanese popular culture
and subculture in the 1990s in a manner similar to the way
Tokyo Pop artists exploited Japan’s graphic-art traditions.
The difference is that by the 1990s, Japanese pop culture
had already achieved a global status, and this helped make
their work marketable in a globalized art market. This is
actually similar to the way American Pop art capitalized
on the global appeal of American pop culture in the 1960s.

While today’s popular culture itself has become globalized
to a great extent with YouTube, SNS, etc., cultures have
been diversified to target a very specific demography—at
least in Japan—making it difficult to create something the
majority of citizens can share and enjoy. Street art and
Internet-based art have the potential to engage with society
directly, and community-based projects and art festivals
have been very popular in Japan since the 1990s. Younger
generations are also seeking ways to deal with social issues.
One example is Chim↑Pom, an artist collective that
performed 100 Cheers in Fukushima in 2011 shortly after
the earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster, in which
the collective with Fukushima residents took turns calling
out their post–Fukushima resolution while the others
cheered. Whether art can make itself feel real and part of
contemporary society remains a crucial question today,
as it was in the 1960s.


Pop art in the UK barely survived the 1960s, and in any
case it was soon modified by the prominence of Warhol,
Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein,
with Richard Hamilton continuing as a more intellectualized
UK exponent. When conceptual artists began to use
the camera in the 1970s (Stephen Willats, Keith Arnatt,
John Hilliard, Victor Burgin), partly to analyze, question,
or deconstruct the medium, their practice seemed to
have scant connection with the preoccupations of the
photography community: their investigations had more
to do with a post–Pop sensibility and arguably a keener
awareness of the sociohistorical impact of photography
as mass communication.

I was just reading Mario Amaya, writing in 1970 on
Hamilton, on the strength of whose 1956 collage Just what is
it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?
he called
the “Father of British Pop Art.” By 1968, Hamilton’s practice
devolved almost entirely on deconstructing the paradox
of photography (Swingeing London; I’m Dreaming of a White
). And in a sense, Hamilton’s take on mass communication,
together with his Duchampian irony, underlay
much of what happened in British art (and photography) for
the remainder of the twentieth century. Gilbert & George
and Hockney, for example, both drew conspicuously on
photography in the 1980s, and many of the YBAs (Young
British Artists) would cite (however dubiously) Duchamp
as a key inspiration. But by the 1990s, the barriers were
down, and to take a single representative example, Sam
Taylor-Wood’s “fine art” photographs could be exhibited
in White Cube on an equal footing with Damien Hirst’s or
Tracey Emin’s artworks. Whatever else could be said about
the consequences of this change, it represented a radical
change in the way we look at art, a change for which Pop
was a prime catalyst.


As in other places around the globe, many contemporary
artists from Eastern Europe currently use traditional cut-and-
paste paper collage. It is easy to see such a tendency as
an offshoot of Pop-art genealogy. But the connection is in fact
very indirect and nonlinear. It is even questionable if we can
talk about Pop art in Eastern Europe at all. There were artists
who shared similar preoccupations and strategies with Western
Pop artists, but they never formed an articulate movement. I
see the significance of these artists in the way they formed
novel relationships with modern reality. They produced new
types of realism that freshly reflected contemporary culture.

I do not see contemporary artists from my region following
specific Pop predecessors. Discerning contemporary
collage is not nostalgic and has more to do with the
Internet and its operational logic than with straightforward
Pop art revivalism. But I do see a similarity in the overall
approach. The prewar avant-garde wanted to turn art into
life. Today, media turns life into art. Thanks to the intricacies
of our contemporary media environment, life itself
acquires an aesthetic level. This is not the fulfillment of a
dream but a quite mind-numbing state. Young artists use
current information channels and present-day content as
their source material, and they do it—as did artists fifty
years ago—in a critical manner. This is where I see the
legacy of Pop art.

“Artists were no longer narrators but rather
witnesses or collectors of already existing words and images… Suddenly, it was enough to cut out an image from its original context in a magazine to reveal its double coding.” –Tomáš Pospiszyl

“So many [artists] absorbed American culture with little resistance, internalizing it as their own, while many of them deliberately assumed non-political or ironical attitudes in their work as artists. This ambivalence–their infatuation with American Pop culture, combined with political irony–is a main feature of works of Tokyo Pop.” –Hiroko Ikegami

“An early Pop artist was originally a Pop culture viewer. Being a producer and consumer was never so close.” –Tomáš Pospiszyl

“Japanese Pop art was male-dominated, too, and women artists were in general so marginalized (more so than graphic designers) that they were often invisible.” –Hiroko Ikegami

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