Pop Life: Art in a Material World, Tate Modern, London

Truly, madly deeply shallow
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

This is a deeply superficial show, full of glitz and gloss, blingy as Moscow, neon-besmattered as the buildings of central Tokyo, noisy as a hypermarket. Everywhere you go there's racket of one kind or another – rap in the Keith Haring room, Japanese pop in Murakami's gallery – and a sense of crowd and bustle. At its centre stands the figure of Andy Warhol, the dull, hyper-energetic narcissist who proclaimed that art needed to get out into the world and amongst the people. Perhaps Warhol had never noticed that art had been in public spaces, out among the people, for centuries. No, Warhol was really about the self-advancement of Warhol, by every possible means he could contrive. The curators of this show argue that it was Warhol who brought art and commerce together – perhaps Warhol thought no one had ever paid for a painting before 1960 – and several galleries at the beginning of the show give us a tour of his ever-crazier antics as he aged: more and more images of himself (they cover the walls of one gallery, top to bottom, like wallpaper); chasing stars almost as big as himself ever more frenetically. Making mindless pronouncements on TV. There is much, always too much, Warhol art here, but equally important to the show's curators, there are innumerable magazines and newspapers which demonstrate how he managed to persuade the media to hang upon his every move.

And after Warhol? This show exists to document what happened to some artists – not all, thank goodness – after his death. How artists learnt from him to promote themselves as brands; to manipulate the media; to be ever busier at the extremely serious business of making huge amounts of money.

One of them, Elaine Sturtevant, even occupied herself re-painting Warhol's own images, as if his own hadn't been tedious enough. How sad.

Much of this show consists of reconstructions, or partial reconstructions, of room-size installations. Keith Haring's "Pop Shop" is a remake of a New York art space that he created in 1986. The walls are covered with Haring's squirmy, calligraphy-like black graffiti. A cheerful neon sign winks at us, and Haring T-shirts are suspended around us on hangers. A miserable-looking man sits at a booth cut into the gallery's wall, waiting for us to buy one; or perhaps we'd prefer a little Haring medal for our lapel.

Jeff Koons's room – one of several extremely raunchy interludes – consists of a giant, gross, plastic sculpture of Koons humping La Cicciolina, his sometime porn bride. Various photographic blows-ups around the walls show him licking and lapping at her where it counts.

Next up are the YBAs, of course, who knew a fair bit about self-promotion and harnessing the media to their own ends. Here is a strew of scruffy items from Sarah and Tracey's "Shop" in Bethnal Green – painted cardboard signs, for example. This experiment in commerce lasted just six months.

Sooner or later, of course, we were bound to come across at least a few bits and pieces from "Beautiful Inside my Head Forever", Damien Hirst's big sale-room spectacle of 2008, where he was said to have made in excess of £100m over two days of feverish buying – and just at that very moment when Lehman Brothers was keeling over. A few of the pieces from that show are on display here: a calf in formaldehyde with gorgeous gold hooves; gem-studded butterflies; whole rows of diamonds on shelves. It's just like a discreet corner of Swarovski's, isn't it, Natasha darling?

At show's end we are treated to an entire gallery in celebration of Japan's king of pop commerce, Takashi Murakami. More dancing. More singing. More brash, unadulterated, in-your-face pop trash.

To 17 January 2010 (020 7887 8888)