Exhibition Review: Pop Art Design

Where: Barbican Centre / When: November 2013

I was very excited to visit the Barbican’s Pop Art Exhibit, as it’s one of my favourite movements and I am a big fan of Roy Lichtenstein. The exhibition has been heavily promoted and as so much of what is produced by the Barbican is thoughtful and intelligent, I was looking forward to seeing what the exhibit contained.

The exhibition was laid out over two floors and explored the different aspects and nuances to Pop Art design. As you wonder round, vivid colours and big, imposing sculptures looming out at you, you can hear the slightly spooky, space-agey music from the film installations floating all around you, throughout the exhibit. This gave me the feeling of being in some sort of surrealist film, which added to my experience. The origins of the movement were explored, as well as its critique of and impact on the social culture of the time. I loved all the graphic and typography work in particular. Alexander Girard’s work in typography was especially memorable. So much of the work had a disarming apparent simplicity – collages with magazine cut outs, for example – or the focus on a single, everyday object (for example, there was a sculpture of a crushed cigarette that I loved, but can’t seem to find the name of the sculptor) that seemed innocuous, yet had a powerful effect in person. The often misogynistic and sexualising undertones of the movement were also highlighted, though perhaps more could have been made of the few female artists on display. I loved the uses of colour, repetition and the often startling juxtaposition of ‘banal’ images against more vivid ones, like Jim Dine’s Drag – Johnson and Mao for example; an everyday news image presented in a startling new way. One piece that both fascinated and alarmed was Gunnar Aagaard Andersen’s Portrait of my Mother’s Chesterfield Chair, 1964, which I feel kind of has to be seen to be believed!

I’ll admit, this exhibition exposed my knowledge of Pop Art as pretty shallow and (being truthful) I would have preferred more that I recognised, such as Lichtenstein, though Warhol was well represented. However, the exhibition was wide ranging and there was something for everyone to examine, appreciate and enjoy. I heartily enjoyed my visit and the shop is jam packed with all sorts of pop art-influenced gifts (a perfect source for Christmas if you have artistically inclined friends and family). The exhibition is showing at the Barbican until February 2014.

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