Pop Art Design

The Barbican Art Gallery is now showing an exhibition entitled Pop Art Design which displays not only the art of the period but the furniture, graphic design, fashion and architecture it influenced.

Whereas the modern movement in its reductive search for purity removed decoration, the hedonistic arrival of Pop Art at the end the austerity of the 1950s sought to bring the fun back into design.

Richard Hamilton’s collage ‘Just what is it that makes a home so different so appealing’ is credited with introducing the term. It was first shown at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in an exhibition called ‘This is Tomorrow‘ in 1956 here but it was the Americans who made the movement their own, by celebrating the commercial designs that promoted big business in America.

Andy Warhol’s inspiration was prompted by the original designs of the commercial artists who created the Campbell soup cans, Brillo boxes and Coca-Cola labels as well as the commercial promotion of Hollywood Stars. An original Coca-Cola bottle dispenser from 1952 (the designer being anonymous) is a star exhibit.

Pop artists borrowed frequently from commercial sources and Roy Lichtenstein’s painting ‘In the Car’ (1963) is displayed along with its source in the comic strip from Girls Romances No 78 (1961) conceived and drawn by the artist Tony Abruzzo. The popular imagery used in advertising inspired James Rosenquist, and the food displays on the deli counter, Claes Oldenburg. The British artist Eduardo Paolozzi as early as 1947 produced his ‘Bunk’ series of colleges from American magazines and his interest in Sci-Fi covers fed into his cast aluminium sculpture of the period. An example of this hybrid of man and machine is placed next to the Ettore Sottsass ELEA 9003, a main frame computer from 1958 designed for the Olivetti company where technological innovations and new and exiting materials map out the future.

Chair 1969 by Allen Jones born 1937

The most brilliantly inventive but also deeply controversial exhibit is the show is Allan Jones ‘Chair’ from his series of ‘Women as Sculpture’ 1969. Originally inspired from an erotic cartoon strip of a figure supporting a table, the resulting fibreglass figures appear masochistic and misogynist and created a furore among feminists when it was first shown. Indeed a version was vandalised by feminists in 1986 as can be seen in the Tate Britain’s current exhibition ‘Art under Attack’.

Pop art inspired fashion can be found in Harry Gordon’s ‘Poster dress‘ (1968). It is a screen print of Audrey Hepburn’s eye on paper that could be worn and then when discarded displayed framed as a poster. The era of the record sleeve cover came into its own with Martin Sharp’s seminal 60s psychedelic album cover for Cream’s ‘Disraeli Gears’ and Andy Warhol’s peel-off banana cover for the album featuring the Velvet Underground and Nico. Photographs include William Klein’s cover for Domos (1956) as well as film of the neon lights of in New York’s Time Square. In architecture there is a chance to see Ed Ruscha’s ‘Every building on Sunset Strip’ (1966) and Venturi, Scott Brown’s photographic exploration of vernacular buildings in ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ (1968).

Popular culture’s influenced on the high art in turn brought the fun and excitement back into the applied arts. Looking at this comprehensive exhibition helps to explain, in Richard Hamilton’s words “just what is it that makes todays home so different so appealing.”

(The exhibition continues until 9th February.)

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