The modern world is now proliferated with Pop Art. You can buy prints, postcards, bus pass holders, tote bags, mugs; nearly anything emblazoned with an infamous image. Yet, in the post-war period it was something new and exciting, a marriage of highbrow art and the real world. It was art made with money in mind; it tackled advertising and consumerism, and the artists involved could churn out works for a great amount of money. Pop Art, as the name indicates, still retains its ties with popular culture, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not recognise a Warhol or Lichtenstein.
However, despite Pop Art’s popularity and regular attention, the link between the Pop Art movement of 1950s-70s and the design of the time has little been explored. The Barbican, in co-operation with Vitra design museum, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek & Modern Museet Stockholm, is challenging convention and putting on the first major show focusing on this.
When you see sheer size of the exhibition and volume of exhibits to admire, it’s genuinely surprising this link has been little explored, and the amount of work creating the beautifully organised space has to be admired. The design of the exhibition itself was actually based on a lot of the collage works displayed within, described by co-curator Catherine Ince as encouraging the “association of everyday environment which forms inspiration for the exhibition in order to create an uplifting and playful environment.”
That aim has definitely been met, with the exhibition space itself looking as exciting as each individual work. A smorgasbord of 2D and 3D mediums create an engaging and surprising environment; with icons of commercialisation being displayed alongside the Pop Art version as well as sculptural interpretations. There are Lichtenstein’s paintings as well as his source material on display; infamous design pieces such as Eames chairs alongside Eames chairs that have been made the canvas for art, and even parodied adverts alongside the original adverts, alongside a photoset of shop windows where Pop Art canvasses were used as props in window displays. One of the most attention-grabbing and dominant pieces in the room is ‘Moloch,’ a reproduction lamp that is 3 times as big as the piece it is based on. This exhibition truly shows the never-ending cycle of recycling which Pop Art is founded on.
Whilst the exhibition focuses on the important influence of Pop Art upon design, it also looks at the impact of the expanding design culture on society as a whole. A post-war economy helped to start democratise the art world, with mass production enabling all families to display prints in their homes alongside their shiny new machines, and also contributed to vast developments in the science of materials. With the advent of these new, cheap, materials came endless possibilities; cheap dresses that you could make yourself then use as a poster after wearing, flat-pack houses built entirely from new lightweight and easy to build, even a garment made out of PVC panels which the wearer could unzip and rearrange to create a t-shirt or dress to match their mood.
The shop even seems an extension of exhibition, promoting the sense of mass-production and availability and selling a range of carefully curated design objects that correlate to the pieces on display, such as the perfectly minute Vitra miniatures. If that’s a bit out of your price range, there’s still an affordable range of stationery, books and posters, so you can keep the cycle of recycling imager y going.
Pop Art Design will be at the Barbican centre until 8th February 2014, entry for concessions is £10. For more information such as opening times and how to get there, please see www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery