Art Review: Pop Art Design

The Pop Art exhibition at the Barbican Centre is a compelling review of this influential art movement and presents the dynamic shift in the relationship between art and design which took place in the 1950s and 60s.

The juxtaposition of paintings, sculptures, furniture and film installations is striking as is the blending of some very well known images — Lichtenstein’s dot paintings and Andy Warhol’s pictures of President Johnson and Chairman Mao  — with lesser known work which is equally appealing.

The exhibition covers a wide range of styles and presents Pop Art from a variety of perspectives with many of the most notable names of that era to the fore. Andy Warhol features prominently but an interesting additional emphasis is given to his early career as an advertiser before he made the transition to fully-fledged artist.

Most strikingly, the exhibition addresses the perennial problem of Pop Art in reviewing its accessibility.

Many have criticised its over simplicity with a manifest desire to please, viewed as undemanding art that has slipped far too easily from advertisers placards to become the artistic symbol of the boom generation of consumer greed.   Many works were produced as the post-war recovery engulfed America and took it to unprecedented levels of material wealth.

The Barbican exhibition challenges this “easy Art” by including several of the more contentious art works from the Pop Art era, most notably the furniture of Allen Jones which provoked outcry when it was first exhibited and has provoked debate ever since.

The prostrate female figures with their seductively cupped breasts and black lingerie immediately created a frisson when they were exhibited and have been analysed by Freudians and feminists alike.

The strong cultural connection with a period of time is also very self evident. Modern eyes look at the advertising kitsch as somehow being from a simpler era in sharp contrast to our own post-modern complexities.

Pop Art Design runs at the Barbican Centre until February 9 2014. 

Image detail courtesy of Barbican gallery guide

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