Who says pop art is dead? Anyone who thought the movement had lost its ability to provoke or scandalize over the last 50 years was proved very wrong earlier this month when a Philadelphia Museum of Art post was removed from Facebook for “suggestive content.”

The image in question, Evelyne Axell’s 1964 painting “Ice Cream,” depicts the face of a woman sensually enjoying a brightly-colored ice cream cone. The suggestiveness of that piece was enough to set off a minor social media frenzy, and it’s hardly the most provocative work in the remarkable new exhibition “International Pop,” which opened at the PMA on February 24, for its only east coast presentation.

The expected icons of the movement are present: Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ed Ruscha are all represented. But as the name implies, “International Pop” takes a much broader perspective, including significant and varied takes on mass culture from Germany, Brazil, Japan, Argentina and elsewhere.

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“It was truly an international movement,” said PMA Director and CEO Timothy Rub. “To fully understand the phenomenon in all its manifestations, you need to understand it from a global perspective. ‘International Pop’ presents a movement that emerged throughout eastern and western Europe, South America and East Asia, and in each region artists responded to seismic shifts in their own social, cultural and political landscape and participated in a shared interest in images of common culture.”

Moving through the expansive show, viewers are treated to a barrage of color and image, politics clashing with pop culture, religion with politics, mass consumption with sexual innuendo. Argentinean artist León Ferrari’s “The Western, Christian Civilization” crucifies a plaster Christ on a model of an American bomber; nearby, visitors can kneel at a neon altar to Brazilian rock star Roberto Carlos. Later in the exhibition a rack of Thomas Bayrle’s plastic raincoats stands opposite Robert Watts’ recreated produce stand, a pseudo-gift shop just preceding an actual one.

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“Pop was a direct response to the visually rich image environment beginning in the 1950s, propelled by the likes of television, advertising, print media and magazines,” said curator Erica Battle. But the movement, she continued, differed depending on the artists’ own circumstances. 

“American pop can seem cool, detached and irreverent, while artists in countries like Brazil produced work that is politically charged and subversive in the face of political repression. Throughout, a young generation of artists celebrated, rejected, hijacked, subverted, ultimately reinvented pop for themselves.” 


International Pop

Feb. 24-May 15

Philadelphia Museum of Art

26th Street & Ben Franklin Pkwy.