diamond geezer

 Friday, January 31, 2014

Pop Art Design
Barbican Art Gallery
(22nd October 2013 - 9th February 2014)

You don't have long to get yourself here and explore the world of Pop Art. That's the 1950s/1960s movement based on mass culture, the construct that brought us comic book imagery and painted soup cans. The venue is the Barbican Art Gallery, itself a very sixties kind of building, located near the top of the main complex above the library. I'd never been inside before and was pleased to find a large space on two levels that was probably going to be worth the entrance fee. These are colourful, playful exhibits, as you'd expect, and include actual Warhols and actual Lichtensteins as well as a wide variety of transatlantic and international artists. The blurb on the wall describes this as "cultural fetishism", writ large in over-sized anglepoise lamps and geometric plastic cacti. There are a lot of chairs, because furniture is an art form that can be radically reimagined in many different ways, from plastic mass production to anti-Vietnam protest sofas. One chair supported by a bent-double mannequin in thigh-length leather boots is somewhat disturbing to modern tastes, but the gallery is careful to balance this out with some fairly phallic ice-cream licking elsewhere.

Where else in London can you watch a 1960s Tupperware commercial on the big screen, or enjoy the TV ad for the new Kodak 'Flashcube' complete with groovy dancers? They also show the opening credits to From Russia With Love because that was Pop Art, apparently, and not just lettering washing up and down gyrating flesh. Lettering's a big thing in the exhibition, especially as exemplified on iconic album covers. Architecture gets a look in too, from Las Vegas rooftops to a never-built colossal sculpture called 'London Knees', inspired by the gap between a mini skirt and the top of some boots. We take this sort of stuff for granted these days, that the disposable is just as much art as the exclusive, but this exhibition explores the genesis of the movement and is both entertaining and educational.

At £12 a pop the exhibition's not cheap, but it is comprehensive and I didn't walk out feeling diddled. There is a special end-of-week offer of a free cocktail at the Barbican's bar, but that's a free second cocktail, which probably says a lot about the target audience. There was indeed a group of ladies wandering around taking the whole thing very seriously, occasionally telling each other that they had something just like that in their villa. But the majority of weekday visitors were on the younger side, some of them groups of friends, others clearly with design coursework to complete. If you want to enhance your walk around the gallery, or if you can't make it to the Barbican by Sunday week, there is a free app for your phone with pictures and commentary on 18 key exhibits. You don't get the Tupperware commercial, alas, but as an introduction to Pop Art it's well worth a look.

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