Pop Art Design at the Barbican

As part of our festive celebrations, Studiodare visited Pop Art Design at the Barbican. The exhibition brings together (for the first time apparently) the artists of Pop Art, who mostly responded to and depicted mass production, with the industrial designers who actually contributed to it: the artificial versus the actual.

Barbican Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein In the Car (1964) & Front cover from 75 Years of DC Comics (2010) Taschen

Perversely, it is where art and mass production are dissociated that Pop Art’s most iconic imagery can be found. Where the quotidian is represented under great labour, such as Roy Lichetenstein’s beautiful In the Car (1964), painted by hand but inspired by throwaway comic books. In this exhibition though, Lichtenstein is hung with agreeable paradox alongside four wall-mounted Eames fibreglass chairs, themselves undergoing something of a production/function identity crisis.

Barbican Eames
Charles and Ray Eames Wall mounted Case Study Fiberglass Low Rod Chairs

The grouping of industrial design with the purely visual (and in fact mostly whimsical) doesn’t seem entirely resolved, although the comparison is interesting and the effect is of a strong image of post-war America. Of particular intrigue though are the educational videos of Charles and Ray Eames, which combine the aesthetic with the informative and, pleasingly, a new art form with education.

Much of what we see as contemporary visual language is present in the exhibition too. The mural Alexander Girard designed as part of his branding for the La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960) is particularly prescient and could easily be mistaken for a  proposed pop-up or hipster restaurant.  Conversely, a video of the Smithson’s House of the Future (Ideal Home Show 1956) is so wide of the mark as to be a gem of comedy.

Barbican Alexander Girard
Alexander Girard wall mural at La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960)

Another curio in the exhibition is a series of photos that depict various Pop Art collectors in their homes. Most striking is an image of the Scull family (controversial patrons and latterly scoundrels of the art world) sitting at their decorative 19th Century dining table, the picture of domesticity completed by plastic seat protectors and a serving maid, all presided over by a gaudy room-sized pop art mural. A cheap shot perhaps, but an apt metaphor for the art itself.

Barbican AOC
AOC Architects Pop Art Design exhibition installation

The design of the exhibition itself by AOC provides a brave colourful contrast to the cavernous space of the Barbican gallery, and builds on previous successful exhibitions there such as the Surreal House, designed by Carmody Groarke. Catch it while you can!

Stuart McKenzie Jan 2014

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