When I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, I got the chance to cross the sound to Malmö and see the Dearraindrop-curated Mutant Pop show at Gallery Loyal there. I took a number of photos, which you can see here.
It was fun, but I’m somewhat sceptical of this contemporary iteration of post-pop art. Here, it’s dubbed ‘mutant pop’, which according to Brandon Joyce, writing in the press material (and I assume the catalogue) is characterised as follows:
“The image, the symbol, the icon — and the whole plane of pop-mythos — have power, dignity, and even a biology of sorts. Cartoons, afterall [sic], have cells [sic]. Scrawls and sketches serve as little anatomies and dissections of the living image. And like human and animal life, the image can even experience a kind of image-death. Or an afterlife, a creepy kind of undeath as zombie symbols, afterimages, ghost images, or what have you.
Mutant Pop occurs whenever whenever these symbols and symbologies outgrow their sources. When they take root and incubate in impressionable minds. When they turn weird and grow tails and even get worked into a fullblown [sic] mythos by nice people such as yourselves. Happy, harmless spokesthings assume a self-consciousness. Fleeting-or-forgotten cultural moments, like Max Headroom, like Count Duckula, live on and haunt us through an infectious and hysterical freak culture. And the life-feeling in these images will even, at times, take on mystic or animistic dimensions; as a way of seeing God in the television, so to speak. It amounts, in a way, to a belief in a new, and somewhat noisier, mythos.”
My thoughts are still unformed on this, and I enjoy a lot of the art, but this seems to me bogus, if well-written, defense of what is essentially a fairly superficial, if spectacular, trend in contemporary art, enlivened by all kinds of wacky monikers: ‘psychedoolia’, ‘cute-brute’, ‘cartoon punk’, etc. And an immediate BS-alarm goes off anytime somebody attempts the by now more than hackneyed legitimisation of pop culture by reference to mythology. There’s a kernel of truth to the argument that aspects of pop culture are processed in ways similar to myths, but the latter generally are distillations of common wisdom passed down through generations, while the former is largely junk with little revelatory value.
And in any case, the fact that so many people seem to be “remixing” pop cultural detritus these days suggest that somebody has figured out a shortcut to artistic realisation. It’s a trend, in other words, and not a particularly innovative one. What seems to be going on is a synthesis of the pop art aesthetics of surface and the mysticist aspirations of psychedelic art, with an assumption of outsider art cred. Thing is, artists like Öyvind Fählström and the Hairy Who were already doing this in the 70s, while Gary Panter gave it an existentially punk sharpness through the 80s. What are these new people adding, apart from turning this into some kind of half-baked movement?
Don’t get me wrong, I like several of these younger artists a lot, and some of them, especially the great Ron Regé, contribute fine pieces to the Malmö show (while Hairy Who alumnus Karl Wirsum and Godfather Panter actually underwhelm there), but most of this just seems to me self-indulgent celebration of pop culture nostalgia carried by an assumption of that the very act of resurrecting these things lends it some kind of profound meaning. Just like most psychedelic art, it goes for cheap spectacle rather than artistic inquiry. The difference is that these artists hide behind tongue-in-cheek self-irony rather than haughty mumbo jumbo (the latter, though, is supplied in spades by people such as Joyce, so it’s the best of both worlds, I guess).
Where I see some of these artists making a real difference is in their comics, rather than gallery art. As is often the case, the kind of art that seems dead on the gallery wall comes alive in the pages of a comic, as if sequence enlivens and vitalises its potential for meaning and emotional resonance. I love the comics of Yuichi Yokoyama or Brian Chippendale, for example — their narrative visions are truly original and compelling to an almost addictive degree, while their paintings seem just another attractive piece of saleable decoration for hipsters.
I dunno, I need to give this more thought, but in the meantime go to Malmö if you can — it’s a fun show, with plenty of food for thought, even if the art is not all that great. But it closes on Sunday, so hurry.