Andy Warhol screen prints, 1986. Installation view from Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop at Rochester Art Center.

The Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop exhibition, currently on display at the Rochester Art Center, uses two bodies of work by Andy Warhol as the starting point to explore contemporary Pop Art. Curator Sheila Dickinson has organized an exhibition where Warhol forms the foundation, while contemporary Minnesota artists run with Pop ideas. Starting with Warhol’s Myths and Cowboys and Indians series allows Dickinson to build coherent relationships between the included artists. However, for the most part, the younger artists outshine the Warhol prints, offering fresh investigations of contemporary culture.

Frank Gaard, (L to R) Untitled (French Studies) 2014, acrylic and collage; Untitled (Penelope’s Tapestry), 2016, acrylic and collage. Installation photo courtesy of the author.
The next gallery offers two media pieces that similarly engage, Dylan Redford’s Why did I watch this? (2016) and Ziyang Wu’s The Story of the Pig (2014).

Wu’s The Story of the Pig occupies the gallery space adjacent. It’s grand display and outrageous imagery acts as a thoughtful counterpoint to Redford’s quiet piece. Pushing the pop culture paradigm to the max, The Story of the Pig is unrestrained and unapologetic. Wu has created an animated world, where anthropomorphized pigs take the place of humans. They fill a megachurch/arena worshipping a goliath, human-faced, multi-armed, war machine god that brands select worshipers with fascist symbols, marking them for later sacrifice. Columns at the back of the arena are giant penises constantly changing from flaccid to erect to flaccid, while pigs engage in orgiastic activities within skyboxes. Wu has gathered most major religions into his fantasy space, beginning the video with what seems like a harmless meditation, which soon devolves into cult-like behavior. All of this intersects with K-Pop, as gilded humanoid pop stars join in and amplify the chant. At the heart of the message is a warning – the relationship between conformity and fascism is never far away. Although over-the-top and absurd, Wu’s animation provides a remarkably apt parallel to our current political climate.
Popular culture can be a powerful weapon. Wielded with dexterity, it can tap audiences with which “high” art might struggle to communicate. Pop Art made the case that art is not reserved for an elite few. 

Ziyang Wu, The Story of The Pig, 2016, Color digital video with sound. Photo courtesy of the author.

Popular culture can be a powerful weapon. Wielded with dexterity, it can tap audiences with which “high” art might struggle to communicate. Pop Art made the case that art is not reserved for an elite few. When the things we are familiar with are exalted, we connect with work on an intimate and playful level. Appropriating Star Wars and blending it with a tradition that has been so besieged by stereotypes introduces a broader view of that community. It begins to speak to complex ideas about cultural appropriation, acceptance, and difference. It’s also just plain fun. While it is impossible in such a short review to speak to all of the work presented in a group exhibition like Minnesota Goes Pop, there’s no doubt that Warhol would have liked this one. It’s full of interesting artistic gestures, organized thoughtfully within the generous galleries of the RAC, and celebrates the vibrant arts and ideas being generated in Minnesota.

Rory Wakemup, Darth Chief, Buffalo Thunder Trooper, Smart Wars Resistance Troopers, 2015installation view,. Photo courtesy of the author.

Suzanne E. Szucs is an artist, writer and educator located in Rochester, MN.

Related exhibition and event information:
Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop is on view from February 4 - May 14, 2017 at Rochester Art Center in Rochester, MN. Artists include Jim Denomie, Frank Gaard, Maria Cristina Tavera, Ziyang Wu, Rory Wakemup, Krista Kelley Walsh, Star Wallowing Bull, Bianca Pettis, Dylan Redford, Nick Medearis and Katayoun Amjadi.
Related programs:There is an artist talk with Dylan Redford and Ziyang Wu on April 27 at 7 pm; Frank Gaard will give an artist talk on May 5 at 11:30 am

Artist Talk at Rochester Art Center