That Lady Gaga titled her latest album ARTPOP and described it as a “reverse Warholian expedition” is proof that the legacy of the Pop Art movement is alive and kicking. Pop Art’s eye-candy aesthetic permeated the visual landscape of our mid-century culture–partly because it recycled already ubiquitous lowbrow designs, like the Campbell’s soup can. A new exhibition at London’s Barbican Gallery, Pop Art Design, now celebrates the way design influenced Pop Art and vice versa. It brings together 200 works by over 70 artists and designers, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Peter Blake, Judy Chicago, and Richard Hamilton.
“Pop emerged in the 1950s yet, amazingly, this is the first major show to throw light on the relationship between Pop Art and design,” curator Jane Alison said in a statement about the exhibition.
Pop artists and designers shook up the capital-E art Establishment and had a lot of fun doing it. This is no austere, self-serious gallery show–it looks like a party in there. Highlights include Lichtenstein’s pixelated comic book heroines, a bronze sculpture of a massive thumb, and a spoof of the ESSO logo advertising LSD. Once upon a time, these pieces would’ve been considered consumer culture schlock, not gallery material, but the rules changed in the ’60s. Designers played with boundaries between the crass and the holy, the aesthetic and the practical, as seen in the undulating American flag that is the 1969 Leonardo sofa, and the futuristic neon swimming pool designed by Verner Panton, perfect for hosting an aquatic rave. This is design at its most bold and playful–invention not just for the sake of practicality and problem-solving, but as an act of whimsy.