Opinion

Pop Art Design at the Louisiana MoMA

Humlebæk

20 February 2013

Pop Art and the design of the 1960s and 1970s were inextricably entwined. This is the claim at the heart of Pop Art Design, an upcoming exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark

Pop Art was the late 1950s / early 1960s movement that borrowed from American visual culture to elevate comic book drawings, advertising and teenage imagery to fine art. Its practitioners, artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Richard Hamilton and Tom Wesselmann, prized vibrant colours, simple bold outlines and took everyday objects for their subjects.

Pop Art Design argues that this movement cross-pollinated with the work of 1960s and 1970s designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Ettore Sottsass, Achille Castiglioni and George Nelson. Displaying designed products alongside art, the exhibition - which was first shown at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany late last year, where it was devised and curated by Mathias Schwartz-Clauss - aims to explain the shared visual language of design and Pop Art

Below, the one of the exhibition's organisers Anders Kold - who worked in conjunction with Schwartz-Clauss on the Danish version of the show - explains the link between Pop Art and design, and why Charles and Ray Eames' classic Eames chair is a defining piece of Pop:


In general, museums rank visual arts as the supreme cultural expression of a time. But the Louisiana is very much partial to design and, in the case of Pop Art, you simply cannot separate the two. Pop Art and design emphasise each other, and an appreciation of that relationship is needed to look afresh at Pop Art.

The Eames chair is a classic example of this. One of the themes of Pop Art is collage and the Eames chair is a kind of designed collage. It has a metal industrial grid for legs but, because it is also a rocking chair, has slightly old fashioned wooden rockers. There's a play between the world of industrialised production and those beautifully shaped wooden forms.

Pop Art did not feel shameful about revealing the way its works had been produced. Jasper Johns' Flag or Target with Four Faces both reveal their construction and that is also true of the Eames chair: it displays its metal support in a way that was unusual for the time. It's avant-garde. In both art and design, the 1960s saw the conditions for showing something become very close to the process of fabrication. The Eames chair is a highly sophisticated piece of design for its time and people are still sitting in it; just like how people are still looking at Pop Art.

But one of the things that is really exciting, and which you can say with some bravura, is that during the time of Pop Art designers’ work became iconic and moved more towards imagery. If you look at the designs of Vernor Pantone, he was alienated from his native Danish context because his work was so far removed from the "good taste" of the Nordic countries. He used bold colours and created furniture with very extreme forms. Take his Heart Cone Chair from 1959. If you look at that chair from some distance, it is an image. It's a sculpture before a chair.

By contrast, in the 1960s Roy Lichtenstein painted a lightswitch. The painting has a yellow backdrop with the switch outlined in black. That’s it. It's a piece of art that withdraws to the technical domain of design. That is, in a way, what happened in general during Pop Art. Designers suddenly had an ambition to create products in a way that was very close to what artists do, while artists retreated into positions where you could almost mistake them for functional designers. There was an amazing osmosis between the two fields.