Pop Life at Hamburger Kunsthalle Proves that Good Business is the Best Art

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Pop Life at Hamburger Kunsthalle Proves that Good Business is the Best Art
The photography 'Spiritual America IV' featuring Brooke Shields by US artist Richard Prince is part of the exhibition 'Pop Life' at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany, 09 February 2010. Some 320 works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are on display in the exhibition running from 12 February to 09 May after it was successfully presented in the London Tate Modern Gallery. EFE/Marcus Brandt.

HAMBURG.- The exhibition Pop Life takes Andy Warhol’s famously provocative claim that “good business is the best art” as the starting point for a completely new interpretation of the legacy of Pop art and the influence of its chief protagonists. Pop Life shows the various ways in which artists since the 1980s have engaged with the mass media, often involving the deliberate creation and cultivation of an artistic persona as a ‘brand’. The exhibition features works by Andy Warhol alongside key pieces by Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Martin Kippenberger, Tracey Emin, Takashi Murakami and others. Some 320 exhibits will be on display, including paintings, drawings, photographs, magazines, sculptures, videos, merchandising products, spatial installations and a shop.

Pop Life argues that Andy Warhol’s most radical lesson is reflected in the work of artists of subsequent generations who not only reproduce everyday culture in their artworks but also strategically infiltrate this realm, appropriating the mechanisms of the market, the mass media and the omnipresence of advertising in order to reach an audience far beyond the confines of the art gallery. The conflation of culture and commerce is commonly regarded as a betrayal of the values of modern art; Pop Life, on the other hand, shows that for many artists who came after Warhol, the fusion of the two realms is the only possible means of interacting with the modern world.

One of the central themes of the exhibition is the performative aspect revealed by the self-presentation and role perception of artists within the spheres of the mass media and the art business. The artists themselves are actively involved in key areas – among other things as forgers, celebrities, publishers, art dealers, gallerists, business owners, curators, TV presenters, even auctioneers. They smuggle themselves in disguise into the operating systems of product and information circulation, exposing these mechanisms without having to take a personal stance. Here in lies the ambiguous content – affirmative and critical at once – of Pop Life.

The exhibition begins with an examination of Andy Warhol’s late work, looking at his various roles as a television personality, an advertising icon and the publisher of Interview magazine – typical activities for that time. Highlights include a number of works from the initially controversial series that became known as the Retrospectives and Reversals. As reprisals of his own celebrated images of pop icons from the 1960s, these works prefigure installations by artists such as Martin Kippenberger or Tracey Emin. Like Warhol, these artists openly embrace the self-mythologizing impulse: they consider the creation of their public persona and its distribution as a brand to be one of the fundamental tools of their profession.

Pop Life includes reconstructions of Keith Haring’s Pop Shop and Jeff Koons’s series Made in Heaven, which is rarely presented in its entirety. Haring opened the Pop Shop on New York’s Lafayette Street in 1986 to market his branded artistic signature in the form of merchandising products – including T-shirts, toys and magnets – that were aimed at the widest possible audience. In his series Made in Heaven, first shown at the 1991 Venice Biennale, Jeff Koons publicly celebrates his marital union with the Italian porn star Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina.

Several rooms in the Hamburg edition of Pop Life are dedicated to Martin Kippenberger. One special presentation that will only be shown here features early works from the collection of Gisela Stelly Augstein, a Hamburg-based filmmaker whom the artist much admired. With this display of black-and-white photo-paintings from Kippenberger’s series Un Tedesco in Firenze, along with the ‘Ideentafeln’ (idea panels), and numerous letters and postcards to Stelly Augstein, the exhibition allows visitors to experience at close quarters the early stages of his development into a skilful self-promoter and social analyst. Following in the tradition of Dada and Fluxus, Kippenberger’s provocative, mocking attacks were aimed at dismantling the traditional concept of art.

A further section of the exhibition is devoted to the so-called ‘Young British Artists’, with particular emphasis being placed on their early activities. These include the shop opened by Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas in London’s Bethnal Green district, where the two artists created and sold their work. Renowned pieces by Gavin Turk are featured here alongside selected works from Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, Damien Hirst’s spectacular auction that took place in September 2008 at Sotheby’s in London. A specially commissioned new installation by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who has set up his own multinational company to distribute his art, will be shown in one of the final rooms of the exhibition.

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February 10, 2010

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