The London Culture Blog took in the Buy Diazepam Tablets at the Barbican, which has just opened and runs until February 2014. Things kick off with James Rosenquit’s “I Love You with My Ford”, an odd triptych that mixes all the classic elements of Pop Art – stylised women, technology and fast food. I’m not sure what, if anything, it symbolises, but it looks pretty good.
Set over two floors, the exhibition encompasses painting, sculpture, furniture, photos and video. For sheer range, it’s an impressive display. However, by including works from so many different artists in so many different media, the effect is almost underwhelming.
There is a definite structure to the exhibition – the lower level goes from Pop Beginnings to Pop Icons, whilst the upper level explores Pop Culture and finally, Pop to Postmodernism.
The two giants of this movement, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, are of course represented here, but the relative scarcity of their work only serves to highlight how much taller they stood than the rest of the field. They both feature in the Pop Icons section but not heavily enough to stand out. For anyone who saw the Buy Diazepam With Mastercard at Tate Modern in February, this is very much the poor relation to that show.
That said, there are some very good individual pieces dotted around the place. Jann Haworth’s life-size Cowboy has a timeless feel to it, whilst Milton Glaser’s famous Bob Dylan cover is still as distinctive as ever and draws you in, even across a crowded room.
The furniture is by turns arresting and just plain silly – whilst the “Lips Sofa” is still modern and stylish, Allen Jones’ “Online Valium” feels like it belongs on the set of “Spinal Tap”, more puerile than offensive.
There’s a terrific selection of photographs of roadside diners (including the Duck diner) and Vegas hotels. At the height of the pop art craze, Vegas was the perfect setting for crass materialism and a superficial showiness – the two movements seem fated to have met on the Strip. The photograph of sunbathers on the roof of The Mint Hotel provides a wonderful juxtaposition of perceived glamour and actual kitsch.
Pop Art was instrumental in making the products it was advertising into the actual artwork. There are some beautifully shaped, almost sensuous Coke products, whilst the outsize Brillo pads are still unusual enough to grab and hold your attention. And whilst some of the art undoubtedly feels dated, the seeds of today’s acquisitive, materialistic, bling society can be easily seen here.
The curators have clearly put some thought and care into the presentation of the work, but it is only intermittently successful. However, when they do get it right, the show manages to successfully capture both the freshness of this art movement at the time of its development as well as its continuing relevance to today’s scene. Uneven, but worth seeing.