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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Pop Art Design



Richard Hamilton

Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956)


Barbican Gallery

22 October 2013 – 9 February 2014



As Paul Kantner, front man for psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane is, arguably, credited with saying: ‘if you can remember anything about the ‘60’s you weren’t really there.’ As if to underline this point, at the latest Barbican exhibition Pop Art Design, stands ‘Pillola’ (1968), a series of lamps, shaped as pills, in thermoplastic. It is a touchstone not just for the age but for Pop Art Design itself.

In its widest context, it exploited the cult of celebrity, product fixation and the media’s influence in America and Britain. Richard Hamilton’s ‘Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’(1956), is its ‘birth certificate.’ Its title not so much a question as an inter-textual statement. And from his 1958 painting ‘Here is a Lush Situation’ featuring raised chrome car panel and collaged Sophia Loren lips to his 1970s’ ‘The Soloman R Guggenheim’ wall sculptures inspired by a series of Frank Lloyd Wright postcards, Hamilton is arguably Pop Art Design’s most versatile exponent.  

The exhibition is located in a predominantly sixties’ context. Yet Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades and Karl Schwitters’ collages pave the way. Creations by the Vitra furniture company become collectible rather than functional items. Charles and Ray Eames’ armchair with sketch by Paul Steinberg, 1961/2, has a curved, feminine focus. The ‘Bikini’ chair, also by the Eames’ partnership, displays a hybrid, high-tech rocking chair, 1951/2, with stretched blue vinyl….So the tide turns as design influences art.

Simultaneously, there is a dynamic cross-fertilisation of ideas and the emergence of new synthetic materials. Artists such as Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Gaetano Pesce, Richard Rosenquet and Robert Rauchensberg proliferate; experimentation is the key note. Stephen Willat’s’ ‘Variable Sheets Example No 2’ (1965), with its bold PVC zipped panels make a dress; while the vinyl-stitched image of ‘Smoker Banner’ (1971) by Tom Wesselman, with its luscious lips and curled cigarette smoke, twins with the front cover of The Rolling Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’ album, out in the same year.

Pop Art’s duality is always at surface-level. It complies yet objectifies. There are shop windows and trompe l’oeil at the Barbican space, pastel-shaded enclaves with hidden black and white gems such as Lee Friedlander’s ‘New York City’ (1963). Body parts also suggest fragmentation. Aluminium and bronze casts of knees, thumb, head, cowboy boots, plug socket or the strange displacement of Harry Gordon’s paper dresses, featuring Bob Dylan’s face, all create a sense of dislocation.

The erotic and the fetishist are also prevalent. Allen Jones’ ‘Chair’ (1969), part of a series of furniture sculptures showing women as a hat stand or a table, still has the power to shock. Gaetano Pesce’s 1969 red armchair and foot-rest shaped as a voluptuous woman’s body, with ball and chain, finds its political counterpoint in Belgian artist Evelyne Axell’s provocative picture ‘Ice Cream’ 1964.

The Art of Graphics features Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper album cover, while Andy Warhol’s off-set print of a banana for The Velvet Underground, (1967), has this week a contemporary, sad resonance, with the death of front man Lou Reed. Yet Joe Tilson’s 1969 ‘Page 1, Penelope’ inspired by the final page of James Joyce’s Ulysses, strikes a positive note. It is set out as a printer’s type-set and features the word ‘yes.’ In the process it becomes a work, an image, in its own right. Similarly, Gunman Aagaard Anderson’s unsettling ‘Portrait of my Mother’s Chesterfield’ (1964) is the result of poured polyurethane.

Pop Art Design displays great wit and interplay; a legacy to amuse. And while the concepts and ‘60’s vibe might well belong to another country, another time, the progressive urge to seek out of the new is just as strong, just as vibrant, just as tangible; pill-popped or not……
Barbican Art Gallery
Silk Street EC2Y 8DS
Saturday to Wednesday 10am – 6pm, Thursday & Friday 10am – 9pm
Tickets: Standard £12, Concessions £10, 13 – 17 £8, Under 12s free

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