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February 24, 2024

Mumbai Welcomes Andy Warhol and others at NMACC’s Pop Art Exhibition

Before you push open the doors to the Art House at NMACC, you must brace yourself for the 45 radiant smiles of Marilyn Monroe, printed onto a 120-inch-long canvas, each one beckoning you into the hollow room. The sheer size of it alone, is enough to baffle. 

Fittingly, the entirety of the first floor displayed paintings on the theme of ‘Fame’, with key artworks reflecting the rise of celebrity culture in 1960s and 1970s America, including of course, the 45 Gold Marilyn. Here, four of Warhol’s 40 x 40-inch portraits of famous people (Arethra Franklin, Sylvester Stallone, Georgio Armani and Gianni Versace) stood firmly beside each other in his quintessential silkscreen style, and Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood inspired texts claimed his love for the movies.  

Image by Zara Flavia Dmello

Image by Zara Flavia Dmello

On a long wall at the back of the room, a quote from Warhol accompanied 20 stunning black and white photographs of a number of public figures: “my idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person…”. The wall unfortunately forgets to complete the quote: “…doing something unfamous.” All this obsession with celebrity, pop culture and humanising public figures to the point of over-saturation. One thing became unmistakably clear; Warhol would have loved Instagram. 

The next two floors were titled ‘Love’ and ‘Power’, respectively. Lawrence Van Hagen who curated the exhibition, neatly segregated the pieces according to these three themes, ensuring not to miss out on any key message of the movement. Through POP: Fame, Love, and Power, Van Hagen sought to acquaint young Indians with the relevance of Pop Art in the 21st century. For a generation raised amidst ubiquitous advertising, pop culture, and mass consumerism, he found Pop Art – which derived inspiration from these very influences- to be a pertinent and valuable genre to initiate fresh dialogues on these topics.  


Image by Zara Flavia Dmello

As we made our way up the flights of stairs, whispers of post-modernism echoed throughout the four-storey space and, my friend and I exchanged looks of playful chagrin. On the second floor, ‘Love’, though Robert Indiana’s 6-foot love sculpture stood right in the middle of the room, it was Keith Harring’s work that ultimately took centre stage. A gigantic and vibrant tarpaulin from 1988 depicting the artist’s iconic stick figures intertwined and dancing together. This untitled piece embodied celebration in the pulsating New York cultural scene, presently offering the vast white walls with bright colour. This level of grandeur and mastery is exactly what you must expect from the curation.  


Image by Zara Flavia Dmello

It was on this floor that I found Tom Wesselman’s standing still-lifes (Bedroom Painting 24 and Gina’s Hand) to be especially instrumental in driving home Pop Art’s original intention of re-imagining what subjects deserve to become art. Here, everyday visuals like a foot, a clock and a flower are presented with an almost voyeuristic eye, enlarged and transformed into artistic statements. 

The last of the themed storeys, ‘Power’, featured works by Oldenberg, Sturtevant, Lichenstein, Rauschenberg, etc., that delved into concepts like branding, television, and media. Reflecting the rapidly rising influence of these entities during the 1960s-70s, pieces like Sixteen Jackies, Gulch, Dollar Sign, Fishing Village, and many more, adorned the walls.  


Image by Zara Flavia Dmello

Claes Oldenberg’s Vacuum Cleaner caught my eye on this floor, showing one of his many sculptures representing banal products from consumer life. We may think it rather normative to present a vintage vacuum cleaner as art and might not view it as experimental at all. But the beauty, I think, emerges when you view these pieces in context of their time. Retrospect here is key. We can easily term this structure as art in hindsightBut in the 60s, it was the equivalent of placing a Dyson vacuum cleaner in an exhibit and calling it art. It is pretty experimental when you think about it. 

I spent more of my time on the ‘Power’ floor than any other, and walked out, a newfound fan of Rauschenberg and his 9-metre collage, Periwinkle Shaft. My friend and I stared at the painting generously, counting several American motifs and attempting to theorise what it was about.

Image from NMACC Instagram

After we fell painfully off the mark with our theories we proceeded to the fourth and final floor where Warhol’s Silver Clouds awaited us. This 1966 touch-friendly installation invited viewers to interact with helium-filled metallic balloons, floating around the room.

The incorporation of Silver Clouds into the exhibition served as another instance of the city embracing the immersive installation trend. In Mumbai, the popularity of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room and the Van Gogh 360° experience attests to the triumph of the immersive art model among Indian audiences.

The entire exhibit seemed to break free from conventional gallery formats, and in doing so, attracted a diverse viewership, extending far beyond the usual art enthusiasts. One of the cultural centre’s many missions was to bring global art to India and give Indians the opportunity to develop a keen eye for a spread of art forms. POP: Fame, Love, and Power did exactly that, sprinkling in refreshing elements of fun and amusement along the way.

Exhibition on till February 11th, 2024. Timings:  

Tuesday – Thursday, & Sunday: 11am – 8pm. Entry to the exhibit closes at 7.30pm.  

Friday and Saturday: 11am – 10pm. Entry to the exhibit closes at 9.30pm.  

Entry to this exhibition is free for students of fine arts, children under the age of 7 and senior citizens. 

Zara Flavia Dmello


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