Pop Art Design – Barbican

The Barbican has a pretty good track record for its art gallery exhibitions. Bauhaus: Art as Life last year was my first visit, quickly followed by Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, both of which were excellent and very accessible. The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns was a bit on the pretentious side even for me; the Duchamp pieces were ok, not really to my taste, but I thought the rest was nonsense – a piece of string dropped onto a plank of wood isn’t the manifestation of chaos, it’s litter! Nonetheless hopes were high for the latest showcase, Pop Art Design, and happily it doesn’t disappoint.

This exhibition takes you back to the multi-coloured world of the 1960s where artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein influenced designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, and vice versa. So we began to see everyday objects represented as art including advertising, cartoon strips and mundane kitchen equipment, whilst the objects themselves began to take on more artistic forms. And there’s plenty to see here; painting, sculpture, furniture, film, fashion, photography and much more. The most important thing about this exhibition is that it’s fun! A sofa in the shape of giant red lips, a dress made from zipped panels that you can rearrange according to your mood, a life-sized cowboy made of cloth, a giant angle-poised lamp, a heart shaped cone chair, a giant plastic cloud light, the iconic 60s ball chair, a sewn coffee and donuts set, Warhol’s Campbell’s soup tin as a stool, a cactus coat stand and more than 200 other amazing pieces. They even show you the opening titles of From Russia with Love – can’t go wrong with a Bond reference!

This is all very convincingly put together and you can’t help but be impressed by the imagination of those featured. Not everything is explained so there’s plenty of room to interpret for yourself, and the Barbican is always very good are mixing recognisable with less famous works, so whatever your level of interest something should appeal. If you’re a fan of Pop Art then this is a must see, with plenty of overall information on the themes and interpretations; if you’re new to it then this is a cheery place to spend an autumnal afternoon. The Barbican Gallery is also a very large space, over two floors and every exhibition takes the best part of two hours to get round so it’s pretty good value for money. If you’ve never been before, I have some tips: 1) don’t leave you coat in the cloakroom, you’ll need it, it gets pretty cold after an hour; 2) sit down when you can, there are seats upstairs; 3) it’s early days so try to go late morning / lunchtime – I went in straight in around 1pm, but there was an enormous queue when I left at 3pm. The Barbican has another hit on its hand here and now I can’t wait for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition which follows next Spring.

Pop Art Design runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 9th February 2014 and full price is £12.


About Maryam Philpott

This blog takes a more discursive and in-depth approach to reviewing a range of interesting cultural activities in London, covering everything from theatre to exhibitions, films and heritage. I am part of the London theatre critic team for The Reviews Hub where I have professionally reviewed over 350 shows. It was set up in 2007 to review all forms of professional theatre nationwide including Fringe and West End. My background is in social and cultural history and I published a book entitled Air and Sea Power in World War One which examines the experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy. View all posts by Maryam Philpott

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