The American Dream: Pop to the Present
The American Dream’s arrival couldn’t be more timely. Opening its doors shortly after the inauguration of what will likely be remembered as the US’s most “interesting” president, we’re treated to an insightful look into printmaking and, particularly, its relationship with the country’s slightly tarnished golden ideologies, and our growing obsession with US culture.
The exhibition begins as a predictable foray into Pop Art, but soon develops into a nuanced chronological narrative on the commodification of the American Dream, and the subsequent decay of America’s self-assured exceptionalism.
Featuring work by Andy Warhol, a name synonymous with colourfully irreverent political commentary, we begin our journey almost six decades ago. Through the iconic repetitive screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, we’re inducted into the idea of fame and beauty championed by post-war consumerist values, sharply juxtaposed against works like Little Electric Chair and modern pieces like Willie Cole’s Stowage. The simplicity of a lot of the work belies the powerfully emotive undercurrents attached, and it’s interesting to see them dissected.
With children under 16 going free, this is a great opportunity for budding young artists to experience a movement that is fresh, accessible and engaging with concerns they can relate to. Showcasing pieces by Jasper Johns and Kara Walker, visitors are gradually educated in a movement that is surprisingly as anarchic and lovable as it is transient. Even at a slow amble, the stunning and silly images gently merge into a subversive blend of colour, making it easy to get lost in the labyrinthian gallery – in the same way it’s messages are sometimes blurred too. With contemporary social issues like race, AIDS, and feminism being discussed, the ideas appear to blur and lose impact because of the sheer prolificacy of the show.
With the British Museum’s promise of “new retail collections” inspired by the exhibition, The American Dream‘s poignancy is resolutely dampened. Intentional or not, the rather oxymoronic way of ending such a thoughtful display that, in part, tries to critique consumerism, makes one question the thoughtfulness behind this behemoth of a spectacle.
The American Dream: Pop to the Present is at the British Museum from 9th March until 18th June 2017, for further or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for The American Dream: Pop to the Present here: