Culture: Region Hangs Its Pop Idols; Terry Grimley Is Impressed by an Exhibition Combining Birmingham and Wolverhampton's Pop Art Collections

The Birmingham Post (England), December 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Culture: Region Hangs Its Pop Idols; Terry Grimley Is Impressed by an Exhibition Combining Birmingham and Wolverhampton's Pop Art Collections


Byline: Terry Grimley

Planned to complement the Tate's exhibition Art and the Sixties, now showing in the Gas Hall across the street, Pop Art +, just opened in the Waterhall, is also the first major collaboration from the recentlycreated West Midlands museums hub.

More than 30 items have been lent from Wolverhampton Art Gallery's outstanding Pop Art collection to complement material from Birmingham's own.

The combined strength is impressive, and if it gives an even more convincing impression of the enduring vitality of the 60s generation than the Tate's show does, that may be partly explained by its greater emphasis on graphic art.

However, the immediate focus of attention is Birmingham's major new acquisition, R B Kitaj's painting Desk Murder (1970-1984), now on public display for the first time. Bought for pounds 185,000 with support from the Heritage Lottery, the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Fund and the museum's Friends, it fills a major gap in the city's collection of post-war British art.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932, Kitaj is a one-time merchant seaman who studied at the Royal College of Art and was a formative influence on the slightly younger group of fellow students - David Hockney and his contemporaries - who emerged as the Pop generation at the beginning of the 60s.

Desk Murder is almost unique in Kitaj's output in containing no human figures (there was one, which he painted out).

The typically inscrutable composition shows a mundane office with its furniture rendered in the drybrush technique, revealing the texture of the canvas, which Kitaj favoured around this time.

It is enclosed by black borders which might suggest a window frame and curtain, and there are some unexplained geometrical forms, one of which, a strange contraption emitting sinister fumes, is collaged on to the canvas.

The painting, one of a number inspired by Kitaj's Jewish heritage, is a reflection on faceless bureaucrats as mass murderers.

Originally titled The Third Department (A Teste Study), Kitaj changed the title in 1984 after reading of the death of Nazi War criminal Walter Rauff, who was instrumental in the use of gas vans to accelerate the murder of Jews in Eastern Europe. The artist always hoped that this 'banal picture of evil' would find a home in a public collection.

Desk Murder is shown here in the context of several of Kitaj's screenprints, which put a disconcerting high-tech gloss on surreal, collaged juxtapositions reflecting the artist's varied cultural preoccupations.

His inspiration in adopting this technique was the printmaking of Eduardo Paolozzi.

Though his work is similarly pofaced and even more mischievously humorous, Paolozzi's interests were more technological, less literary, than Kitaj's.

His magnificent set of prints from 1970, Zero Energy Atomic Pile, seems extraordinarily prophetic of the internet with its indiscriminate, democratic conflation of cuttingedge technology and simple-minded popular culture. …

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