After walking away from the art world, Carl Pope Jr. headlines the Cleveland Museum of Art’s newest exhibition

After walking away from the art world, Carl Pope Jr. headlines the Cleveland Museum of Art’s newest exhibition
The Bad Air Smelled of Roses: Who RU2 Day, 2004–ongoing. Carl Pope Jr. (American, b. 1961), printed by York Show Print. Letterpress poster; 48.3 x 35.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Whitehill Art Purchase Endowment Fund and gift of David Lusenhop in honor of the artist, 2018.33.32. Courtesy the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Leading lights  -   Artists

Carl Pope Jr. is an unconventional artist from the heart of the Indiana. Although his works have been exhibited by prominent cultural institutions, as well as the Whitney and MOMA owning some of his works, he is simply elusive. With little interest in selling his art, Pope is not represented by a gallery and can be difficult to track down.

In 2011, Pope walked away from the art world, putting The Bad Air Smelled of Roses (2004-ongoing), and many other projects, on hold. ‘I started to see in society that there was no real interest in history, no real interest in art that challenged people’s preconceived conventional ideas, so I started to question the validity of my work. I just kind of went into a hiatus,’ Pope said of his 2011 pause.

It was not until 2015 that Pope returned to his practice after receiving an invitation for residency at the Montalvo Art Center. The programme’s mission – which focuses on acting on ideas rather than just having them – aligned with Pope’s and drew him back to the art world.

How the Cleveland Museum of Art and Who RU2 Day affirmed Pope’s reemergence 

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) recently opened their new exhibition ‘Who RU2 Day: Mass Media and the Fine Art Print’ two weeks ahead of schedule on the 18th of November. Featuring contemporary artists, the exhibition examines the way in which print and photography are used to exploit the age of information, weather fact or ‘fake news.’ The CMA focused on artists that ‘challenge notions of high art and its historically authoritative stance,’ exactly what Pope did when he began stapling his prints to the gallery wall in preparation for the exhibition.

‘Who RU2 Day’ centres around the largest installation of Pope’s The Bad Air Smelled of Roses to date and without the works, the exhibition may not have gotten off the ground.

Installation view of Carl Pope Jr.’s ‘The Bad Air Smelled of Roses’ in Who RU2 Day. Courtesy the Cleveland Musuem of Art.


The poster series emphasizes text over image with each poster containing a short passage from a song, poem, film, or news article. According to James Wehn, guest co-curator of ‘Who RU2 Day’, Pope ‘talks about the work as an ongoing essay.’

Wehn has become well-acquainted with the series. When he was a doctoral fellow at the CMA, Cleveland-based art collector David Lusenhop offered to donate 42 of Pope’s posters to the museum. Over the course of nearly a year Wehn and Curator of Prints and Drawings Emily J. Peters spent time with the donation. Initially, they thought they would only take 20. They then realized it only made sense to take the works in their entirety.

When the CMA reached out to Pope, after finding him in Indianapolis, in the hopes of acquiring the rest of the poster series, Pope found it to be one of the most affirming moments since his sabbatical. Subsequently, Pope made a custom set of posters to complete the CMA’s series which they acquired in June 2018.

Pope helped install the 108 posters that make up The Bad Air Smelled of Roses, and Peters recollects watching Pope organize the posters as ‘fascinating.’ ‘He was very particular,’ she continued, ‘He was thinking about color and also the size of the text. It’s not all based on the sayings. Some of his decisions were just formal in a sense.’

‘Who RU2 Day’ will be on display until March 24th, 2019.