Fulfilment explores the bombarding world of advertising and its influence on consumerism, posing the question: can society ever reach true fulfilment? The exciting pop art and photography on display is thoughtful and humorous, often deliberately using advertisement conventions as a way of scrutinising and reflecting on consumer culture. The exhibition sheds light on the effects of capitalism by acting as a space that recontextualises advertisement imagery, allowing photographs that would often go overlooked to be inspected. With work from photographers Hans Eijelboom, Katie Novell, Martin Parr and Andreas Gursky, as well as pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Ben Frost, the Free Range Gallery will become a place of contemplation and self-awareness.
The first section of the exhibition provides a historical backdrop of postmodern art and in doing so reveals the mundane in consumerism, mixing humour and irony with truth. Primarily, the postmodern is an architectural movement concerned with style, however photography and pop art have used this as a means to visually question our systems of thought when discussing topics of consumer culture. Warhol is an obvious reference to the beginning of the postmodern movement in pop art. His well-known Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) explore the blurring of boundaries between product design and art through repetition as he appropriates a familiar image from consumer culture. As a result, the final piece is similar to a shopping aisle as he affectionately reflects on consumer and mass culture by mimicking the uniformity of advertising. Another featuring artist who emerged at the beginning of the postmodern movement is Roy Lichtenstein. Whaam! (1963)borrows the components of comic books and combines them with popular imagery from advertising, as he scrutinises low mass-produced cartoons that are transformed with easel painting that is fundamentally traditional and respected. Lichtenstein states “I am nominally copying, but I am really restating the copied thing in other terms. In doing that, the original acquires a totally different texture”. The use of pastiche, imitation and repetition are used to suggest a different way of thinking.
The exhibition’s second section includes a range of postmodern photographers who engage with advertising conventions. Photographer Andreas Gursky also uses repetition as a means of showing excess of commodity items and spaces, however through grand scale, magnitude and rigorous organisation. He reveals a sublime of consumer goods in 99 Cent (1999) as the viewer is shown a digital manipulation of endless shelves stacked with food. This spectacle of consumerism depicts our reality but is so overwhelming through its extreme constructedness and attractiveness, that it appears false. Gursky encourages a dialog and scrutiny of everyday scenes of consumer culture, with his photographs acting as symbols of contemporary society.
Repetition is a common element used in many of the exhibiting artists’ works, including Hans Eijkelboom who documents fashion in contemporary society. He presents huge grids, with rows upon rows of people wearing clothing that are incredibly similar, whether that be striped tops or hats. As he waits armed with his camera outside a shopping mall, he demonstrates the visual effect of a society who have become sheep to trends and fast fashion. Katie Novell similarly uses pastiche and imitation as a way of revealing the uncanny in advertising in her Ad Clones (2020) Project. One wall shows everyday citizens becoming clones of the familiar Oral-B advert, as they are systematically photographed eating an apple, whilst the other shows a stiff pair of fragmented legs that are commonly seen in tights advertising. The stiff poses, cut body parts and strikingly fake smiles objectifies the subjects in the photograph, making them become uncanny clones of themselves. The highly constructed and seductive quality of the work mimics catalogue imagery and comments on the strangeness within advertising photography itself.
In the final section of the exhibition we experience the harsh truth and unglamorous nature of capitalism and advertising with a mix of contemporary pop art and photography. Martin Parr’s series The Last Resort documents the British tourism industry, with Parr describing his images as having a “humour and horror that prevails in equal measure”. With harsh flash and saturation, he exposes the visual truth of tourism as we view the British indulging at the beach, a stark contrast to imagery shown in the brochures. Alongside this work is that of Ben Frost who boldly engages with iconic advertising and challenges the norms of contemporary society through his huge scale pop art mashups. His work is controversial as he combines drugs and sex with childhood characters like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. The work shown at the Fulfilment exhibition overall reflects on a wide range of issues and observations within consumer culture and advertising, revealing a contemporary reflection on modern day society.
The Fulfilment exhibition aims to promote dialogue with others and encourage self-reflection on how the persistent ad-world affects our behaviours and emotions regarding consumer culture. Fulfilment will be taking place for two weeks from the 30th of March 2020 at the Free Range Gallery in London.