You have probably seen a Pop art exhibition (Lichtenstein, Warhol) but have you seen a Pop art design show? Probably not. Pop Art Design at the Barbican Centre explores ideas exchanged between Pop artists and designers during the Pop era. It is on show until February 9th. The exhibition is nicely laid out, using the best of the two-floor space, and includes many works on loan from Moderna Museet, Stockholm’s modern art museum.
Pop art is an art movement that developed in the late 1950s in the US, drawing on popular culture and influenced by advertising, everyday life, celebrity as well as comic books and other modern artists in some instances. Pop art was often viewed as a response to abstract expressionism, such as Pollock’s dripping paint.
It may be because I recently saw Surrealism & the Object at Centre Pompidou (see previous post, in French) that I felt the urge to find a resemblance between Pop art design and Surrealists objects. There are similarities in my view between surrealist objects and Pop art design in the eroticism, the act of putting together unconnected things, which brings to mind surrealist illogic, and automatic drawing. The latter also evoke Dadaism as Pop art design and readymades show that everyday objects can provide subject matter for the artist.
When I saw Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni Sella in the Pop Art Design show however (a stool with a bicycle saddle), which reminded me Duchamp’s Tête de Taureau (with the bull’s head being a bicycle saddle), I realised that Pop art design can have a functional use – you can sit on it! – whereas surrealist objects do not have a function. Another difference of Pop art design vs. surrealist objects is advertising’s influence on pop art, which the often communist surrealists would have rejected. It can be argued that Pop art conveys a message of criticism towards consumerism, but having seen several Pop artists doing commercial work, I don’t believe that.
All in all, I view Pop art design as light-hearted, colourful, and following Pop art aesthetics. The concept of appropriation is embraced; the distance between art and commercial work is thin. And there were several design items I wouldn’t mind having in my living room!