Mashup, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current exhibition, cleverly captures modern culture’s modus operandi. The title itself is a fertile compound, mirroring the hybrid qualities of some of the most popular paintings, mixed media pieces, film, music, architecture, and photography from the past century. Barbara Kruger’s contemporary installation Untitled (Smashup) in the gallery’s foyer welcomes guests to this ambitious survey (the exhibition contains 371 artworks by 156 artists curated by 30 partners) – monochromatic declarative statements seamlessly blend into the neoclassical walls and stairwells, perfectly establishing the meaning of Mashup.
Starting from the fourth floor and making your way down, the exhibit introduces the origins of Mashup work in 1912 to its current interpretations that saturate every corner of popular culture (we quickly learn that the term is not the sole property of musical numbers on Glee). The first half of the century features the genesis of movements like Readymade epitomized by Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel and Organic Functionalism steered by Danish modernist designer Hans Wegner. Around the same time as Duchamp, Italian painter and sound composer Luigi Russolo and his league of Futurists prepared the foundation for following generations of experimental noise creators (popularized by artists like Brian Eno in the 70s, also featured in the exhibit).
As you travel a story, you explore mixed media works rife with political and sociological readings. Canadian artist Joyce Wieland, an instrumental figure in the country’s pop art scene in the 60s, delivers war, gender, and ecological issues in colorful and humorous pieces such as Stuffed Movie. The energy from France’s zeitgeist in the 50s jumps at you from Jacques Villegle’s urban paper collages. Of course, the exhibit would not be complete without walls of Andy Warhol’s neon screenprints – his works blurred all divisive lines between fine art and popular culture, strongly challenging the notion of celebrity.
The final floors of the exhibit prove the exponential growth of Mashup through film, music and the dawn of the internet. Dara Birnbaum’s spliced and edited video installations grappled with the effects of the television medium on its audiences, the art of Vidding allowed fans to create new narratives to existing films and television challenging ideas of originality and ownership, while the mastery of Dub in Jamaica (and eventually hitting big internationally) made way for producers to sample, recut and remix traditional sounds into complex but accessible compositions.
Walking through the gallery’s hallways, each piece possessed a conversation waiting to be explored. Every artist offered a smile, wink or nod to a preceding or simultaneous thought, icon, text or event and invited further interpretations from future audiences and artists.
Mashup will be at the Vancouver Art Gallery until June 12, 2016.