With the recent tragedies in Paris, where journalists and cartoonists were murdered for exercising their freedom of speech through satirical drawings, it is important to support all kinds of art forms that promote free speech and denounce censorship. The Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea is currently holding a free exhibition showcasing pop art from artists all over the world. Presented by the Tsukanov Family, the exhibition displays art created over the past four decades that speaks out against problems such as consumerism, totaltarianism and black and grey propoganda. Although each piece of art is essentially propoganda, it speaks out for those without a voice and counteracts the dominant ideology once, or currently, present in their country.
Art, in particular contemporary art, can be ambiguous and, although the message may seem clear, the artist wants the viewer to construct their own idea of what the art piece actually means.
Ai Weiwei is a contemporary artist and political activist from China. He has been held under house arrest and imprisoned for 81 days by the Chinese government for speaking out against corruption in his country. He is now an ambassador for Reporters Without Borders who have ranked China the 175th best country in the world for media freedom, making them the 6th worst. The only pieces of art being held at the gallery by Weiwei are Sofa In White and Coloured Vases. Although very simple, one being fifteen clay vases painted different colours and the other being a white marble armchair, they can have a much deeper meaning. The marble sofa is half of a pair which was once placed in Zurich city centre for passers by to sit on and rest. This can represent comfort for all, even those who feel they don’t have the proverbial pot to unload their bladder in. The old Chinese vases covered in paint could represent Chinese history tarnished by a modern society.
The Saatchi’s busiest section seemed to be Advertising and Consumerism. There are many art pieces in this section that combined politics and advertisement to create a powerful message. One piece, by Alexander Kosolapov, shows a Coca Cola adverstisement on a canvas with Lenin’s head on it and the slogan below ‘It’s the real thing’. The artpiece, aptly named Lenin and Coca Cola, is seemingly an ironic portrait of Lenin and how he introduced Marxism into a political system, but remoulded to suit him. Two other interesting pieces, both by Wang Guangyi, shows Chinese revolutioists fighting against bigs brands from the west (Benetton and Swatch). The paintings, Great Criticsim: Benetton and Great Criticism: Swatch, depicts Chinese propaganda and how it turned a nation against capitalism.
There are other works of art which are less to do with politics and more of a dig at consumerism, such as Nutsy’s McDonalds by Tom Sachs. There are also some less obvious works of art, such as Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, by Jeff Koons, which simply shows three basketballs floating in a clear tank filled with water and sodium chloride reagent – a similiar concept to Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, but created beforehand (Koons, 1986, and Hirst, 1991).
In an era of postmodernerist art, where different art forms are merged into one and a juxtaposition of politics and art have become popular, it is common amongst artists to call their work ‘Thinkpieces’. But with all abstract art, the idea is to use your imagination to decipher the message the artist is getting across. So make up your own mind; decide what you think each of these pieces of art actually mean and whether they play an important role in freedom of speech today.
Post Pop: East Meets West will run until 23rd February 2015.