This exhibition has been on at the Vancouver Art Gallery for some time now and when I saw that this past weekend was the last to all four floors I decided to get myself downtown and view this exhibition.
The exhibition spans all four floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery – a historical first. There are 371 artworks featured by 156 artists and the concept took three years to put together. It took a month to construct the space and as the video above shows the VAG’s space has been utilized in ways never done before. So kudos to the curators who pulled together such an ambitious project.
In chronological order starting at the 4th floor the exhibition goes through the various art movements of the 20th century, starting with Collage, Montage and Readymades featuring works by Picasso, Braque, Hannah Hoch, and John Heartfield and of course Duchamp. I always enjoy seeing Duchamp’s work, finding it quirky and rather tongue in cheek as if he is thumbing his nose at the establishment in making these readymades. This was the first time I had seen Heartfield’s work and it was quite the history lesson to see such bold montages up close. He gives anti-propaganda a new level of discourse.
The 3rd floor stepped us into the Post War era of Cut, Copy and Quotation in the Age of Mass Media where “an explosion of mass-produced consumer goods, dynamic marketing and the pervasive broadcasts of radio and television produced a second wave of mashup culture that amplified and escalated its growth globally and across media.” Artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg used advertising methodology and pop culture in their imagery. Another first for me in seeing Warhol’s work. I found that I rather liked his Marilyn Monroe’s and Mao Tse Tung’s that spanned the wall space opposite each other. The one a symbol of Westernization and decadence, the other a symbol of repression, both appearing in wonderful bright neon and pastel colours which seem to serve as an equaliser between the two camps.
Down on the second floor was the late 20th Century featuring the Splicing, Sampling and the Street in the Age of Appropriation. This section featured “a new generation of artists—the first to be raised with television, fast food and an economy based on conspicuous consumption—embraced mashup methodologies as a way to question media culture, consumerism, identity politics and gender relations.” Artists whose works featured “mashup methodology which shifted toward strategies of appropriation, détournement and inhabitation.” Among these artists were Sherri Levine, John Baldessari and the General Idea (a group of three friends who established forums for the dissemination of artists’ ideas and objects and also created the periodical File Megazine – a parody of Life Magazine I wonder? Baldessari’s Fish and Ram collage reminded of one of the exercises we were assigned in TAOP where we were tasked in working out the implied lines within various photographs. It seems Baldessari also read Michael Freeman’s book!
The ground floor, or first floor as they call it here in Canada, was taken up by The Digital Age: Hacking, Remix and the Archive of Post-Production. The majority of this floor dealt with sound, remixes and computers. As I work with computers all day I skipped over those sections. One installation had me chuckling though and that was Stanley Wong’s work anothermountainman. He had taken the ubiquitous red, blue and white striped nylon canvas shopping bags that are so prevalently used by the African population back in South Africa, and no doubt in other cultures too, and literally furnished a very large room with these trappings. The effect, for me, was rather like stepping into one of these shopping bags, the play of light on the stripes mimicking this effect quite marvelously. Ellen Gallagher’s plasticine/paper and ink in pale yellow-green and white shades was rather odd to look at. One was prevented from stepping close to read the text due to a barrier placed in front of the installation. Suffice to say that she has taken ads of people from magazines or newspapers and placed plasticine hair and facial features over top. The effect is strangely enticing and comical.
This was a great exhibition to come to terms with Modernism and Post-modernism art work, but I came away a little disappointed. It was a bit like a history lesson on steroids. I had to skip over quite a few of the exhibits as they were videos or sound recordings, and only one headphone set was available at each station, and the queues were a few people deep at each item. Although there were hundreds of art works advertised and I clearly remember seeing Cindy Sherman listed, I did not see her work at all. I think perhaps the gallery had created too much of a maze with the extra rooms that were built in. I know on one of the floors I had great difficulty finding my way back to the elevator again and landed up walking around in circles, which really frustrated me. Maybe providing viewers with a map where the various artists were located might have been a good idea. The little postcard with a blurb of the event that was handed out at the cashier’s desk definitely did not suffice.
List of Works (2016). Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver Art Gallery. (2016) Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture (online). Available at: https://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions /exhibit_mashup.html [Accessed 17 May, 2016]