Pop Art Design

Leading us in with gorgeously bright, 3D branding by AOC, the Barbican’s dazzling new Pop Art Design show opens with a suitably bold, brilliant, whizz-pow-bam greeting.

Tom Wesselmann Smoker Banner, 1971 Private Collection, Siegen

Source: © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/DACS, London/VAGA, NY, 2013

Tom WesselmannSmoker Banner, 1971Private Collection, Siegen

The exhibition features more than 200 works, by more than 70 artists and designers working across furniture, interior, product and graphic design; photography, architecture and fine art, providing a hugely comprehensive overview of the intersection between Pop Art and design.

George Nelson Associates, Inc. (Irving Harper) Marshmallow, sofa, 1956

Source: Herman Miller Furniture Company Collection Vitra Design Museum

George Nelson Associates, Inc. (Irving Harper) Marshmallow, sofa, 1956

According to the gallery, this is the ‘first comprehensive exhibition to explore the exchange of ideas between artists and designers in the Pop age’.

Indeed, its something of a surprise to think that for all the hundreds of exhibitions that have examined Pop Art, Post Modernism and 20th century movements that ‘Pop’ touched on that until now, the intersection between Pop Art and design has been so muted.

James Rosenquist I Love you with My Ford, 1961 Collection Moderna Museet

Source: hoto: Moderna Museet-Stockholm/Prallan Allsten © James Rosenquist/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2013

James Rosenquist I Love you with My Ford, 1961 Collection Moderna Museet

As such, the show proves what was obvious all along – that design played a leading role in the frequently humourous, smart, theatrical production of the Pop Art movement. As designers helped brand and package the new wave of products coming into the market, artists looked to those products as inspiration for their works, such as Warhol’s Brillo Soap  Pads Box and James Rosenquist’s I Love You With My Ford. Both artists, rather unsurprisingly, began their careers as designers and advertising creatives, before taking these skills into the world of fine art.

Andy Warhol Close Cover Before Striking, 1962 Collection Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Source: © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/

Andy WarholClose Cover Before Striking, 1962Collection Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Objects from the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Gaetano Pesce and Ettore Sottsass nestle alongside art works by Peter Blake, Judy Chicago, Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Elaine Sturtevant, and Andy Warhol; showing how the art and design worlds informed one another in terms of their vibrant, bold visual language.

Stephen Willats Variable Sheets, No. 2, 1965 Private Collection

Source: © Stephen Willats

Stephen Willats Variable Sheets, No. 2, 1965 Private Collection

The art of the movement brashly and openly pilfered from the world of advertising, branding and mass production, taking the idea of mass and pop culture – which is, of course, shaped and moulded by the design world – as its central thematic concern.

Evelyne Axell Ice Cream 1, 1964 Private Collection

Source: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013

Evelyne AxellIce Cream 1, 1964Private Collection

While never straying from the bold, playful feel that characterised the art and design on show; the exhibition provides an informative context to the pieces, noting how their genesis in a post-war climate informed their themes and aesthetic.

Guido Drocco, Franco Mello Cactus, first series, 1972 Manufactured by Gufram

Source: Collection Fondation Beyeler, Riehen

Guido Drocco, Franco Mello Cactus, first series, 1972 Manufactured by Gufram

From the 1950s in the UK and the US, the rapidly developing new technologies in packaging, advertising, film and television that were emerging were soon synthesised by both designers and artists in their work.

As such, a new visual language begun to emerge that blurred the boundaries between high and low culture, explored with a new, bright brand of youthful hope and exuberance.  With the emerging cult of celebrity – which the exhibition cleverly aligns with the new iconography of brands in the era –  a whole new aesthetic began to emerge that was increasingly playful, provocative and unashamedly pop in its references.

Gaetano Pesce UP 5 & 6 / La Mamma / Donna, armchair and footrest, 1969 Cassina & Busnelli, Novedrate (CO), Italy

Source: Collection Vitra Design Museum

Gaetano PesceUP 5 & 6 / La Mamma / Donna, armchair and footrest, 1969 Cassina & Busnelli, Novedrate (CO), Italy

While many of the pieces seem familiar (the Warhols, the Lichtensteins, the cheekily erotic Allen Jones Chair), Pop Art Design presents a huge number of works that are rarely shown, such as the enormous Moloch lamp by Gaetano Pesce, a Brobdingnagian take on the traditional Anglepoise light.

Gaetano Pesce Moloch, floor lamp, 1970-71 Bracciodiferro Srl, Genova (GE), Italy

Source: Photo: Aldo and Marirosa Ballo Collection MNAM/CCI, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Gaetano PesceMoloch, floor lamp, 1970-71Bracciodiferro Srl, Genova (GE), Italy

The show is arranged by theme rather than chronologically, and there’s a beautiful selection of graphics on show, including Lance Wyman’s 1968 Mexico Olympics logotype, an unrealised poster design by Saul Bass for John Sturges’ 1960 film The Magnificent Seven, Milton Glaser’s poster insert for the 1966 Bob Dylan Greatest Hits compilation and some great RCA graphics posters.

Studio 65 Leonardo, sofa,1969 Manufactured by Gufram Collection Vitra Design Museum

Source: Photo: Andreas Su¨tterlin

Studio 65Leonardo, sofa,1969 Manufactured by Gufram Collection Vitra Design Museum

Throughout the exhibition’s tenure, the Barbican is running a programme of events including Hyper-Pop, a comic-making workshop for young people; Nigel Waymouth, one Hapshash and the Coloured Coat in conversation with cultural historian Alex Seago; a series of exhibition tours and the film screening programmed Pop: Images of Desire.

Pop Art Design runs from 22 October – 9 February 2014 at Barbican Art Gallery, Silk St, London EC2Y

Hide Comments (1)Show Comments (1)
Comments
  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The Barbican has published an iPhone/iPad or Android app to go with this exhibition – barbican.org.uk/apps

  • Post a comment

Latest articles