The Museum of Contemporary Art's dual Pop Art exhibitions are clearly meant to be viewed in tandem, but if you're pressed for time, "Pop Art Design" is the more essential of the pair. The collection explores how the fine art movement both influenced and drew inspiration from the commercial design of the ’50s and ’60s, displaying everything from outlandish furniture and light fixtures to tupperware and TV sets. Organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the exhibit clearly demonstrates how designs grounded in pop culture became a ubiquitous method of harnessing familiar iconography to create something new.
Divided into small, themed displays, “Pop Art Design” excellently pairs design objects with fine art that shares similar aesthetic elements. Early in the exhibit, Marshmallow Sofa (George Nelson Associates Inc., 1956)—a couch formed from individual, circular cushions—is placed next to wrapping paper designed by Roy Lichtenstein that utilizes a uniform Benday dot design. Another section groups together works that fetishize the female form, including the contorted, erotic leather-clad mannequin that forms the Allen Jones Chair (Allen Jones, 1969) and the evocative, lip-like contours of Bocca (Mouth) (Studio 65, 1970). The conversation between these pieces may seem apparent, but it’s an effective way of showing how artists and designers mined similar influences.
“Pop Art Design” also highlights the ways in which cultural trends informed the art world, most notably in a section of the exhibit devoted to graphic design. Upon entering the room, visitors encounter a Superman comic book, sporting bright colors and bold lines. Those motifs are echoed in the design ephemera that fills the walls, including Andy Warhol’s playful Velvet Underground and Nico album cover and an abstract poster by Milton Glaser that accompanied copies of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits LP. Another section places a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine next to one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans, demonstrating Pop Art’s appreciation for (and application of) the direct, effective visual style that was employed by commercial designers.
For those who equate Pop Art with Lichtenstein and Warhol, “Pop Art Design” acts as a gateway to the full scope of the artistic movement, showcasing lesser-known artists who made equally inspiring works. Like any great creative trend, Pop Art was a creative exchange—one that this exhibit visualizes in a way that accentuates how artistic ideas can be modified, shared and reinterpreted.
RECOMMENDED: Our review of "The Street, the Store, and the Silver Screen: Pop Art from the MCA Collection"