Jann Haworth, Art Gallery, Wolverhampton
Pop Art given a good stuffing
Tuesday 03 November 2009
Does the Pop Art movement of the 1960s represent a battle between the Unserious and the Overserious? It can look that way. Nothing is more shockingly dissimilar to a silkscreen of a Campbell's soup can by Warhol from the 1960s than a giant work of monochromatic abstraction by Robert Motherwell from the 1950s. Abstract Expressionism seems to have almost no common ground with Pop. One seems to smile and dance around out in the world, while the other glooms and navel-gazes with an enormous sense of macho self-importance.
And that's the state of mind I carried with me into this retrospective by the Pop Artist Jann Haworth in Wolverhampton, which principally encompasses work from two decades, the 1960s and the past ten years. That it would be fun, fun, fun all the way. (You don't know the name? You should. She co-produced the Sgt. Pepper album cover. Though American by birth – she has a home in California now – she lived in Britain for a good part of her life. She even trained here as an artist).
And, in part, that is true. The gallery is a cheerful, triangular space. The works – two- and three-dimensional – are either on the walls or set against the walls. They are bright, brash and funny. They don't exactly crowd out the space, but they do fully occupy it – rather in the way that a house is fully occupied by its own furniture. Companionable. At one with you. Not art to teach you a lesson about your own ignorance of art. And, in part, it manages to be so companionable because it pokes fun at things. It makes fairly ordinary things – a charm bracelet, a ring – seem delightfully strange by blowing them up to giant size or making them out of soft materials. It makes us think back to the history of the art of the 20th century, and reflect upon the fairly rigid and humourless way art's story has often been told. It points out to us that abstraction, when seen in a slightly different way, is also decoration, and that the decorative is often playful. She re-makes a Futurist painting by Gino Severini out of compacted triangles of sequins. It feels as if she has pricked a bubble. In fact, you feel that a lot of what she has done has consisted of her taking shiny pins and pricking them into male backsides in order to watch them deflate. She reminds us that the history of Pop Art was largely the history of males – as was the history of Abstract Expressionsm, too.
One thing that Jann Haworth does is to soften things up, to draw our attention to what we regard as the feminine side of things in order that we can then ask ourselves: why should women be ghettoized in this way? What's necessarily so feminine about stitching one bit of stuff to another bit of stuff – or so masculine about heaving sheets of cold metal about? She makes sculptures of people – a maid, an old man, a granny slumped in a chair. But she doesn't make them out of bronze. She's not in the business of monumentalizing or heroicising the human form. She makes them out of soft materials – fabric, with stuffing. This gives them a yielding playfulness. They become the stuff of a kind of touching, nostalgia-soaked comedy. She gathers them in little sets, as if they are about to be filmed. Her childhood was spent wandering around film sets, and much of her work refers to the heroes and heroines of the cinema: W C Fields, Shirley Temple, Mae West and others. In short, she has fun at the expense of quite a lot of us.
No wonder the gallery was teeming with kids, those pesky anarchists, when I walked around.
To 10 April 2010 (01902 552 055)
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL
Avengers: Age of Ultron set to make box office history with $84.5m US opening
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Red Dwarf returns: Craig Charles quits Coronation Street to return to comedy sci-fi series
New on Netflix UK May 2015: From Fast & Furious 6 to World War Z and Grace and Frankie
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils