When Britain Went Pop: 60's Art At Christie's Mayfair

By Londonist Last edited 63 months ago
When Britain Went Pop: 60's Art At Christie's Mayfair


If you want to get an authentic feeling for a period, look at the art. Entering Christie's early British Pop Art exhibition is like being immersed in a sixties film.

This is nostalgia only in as much as so many of the artworks on show have stepped straight out of the pages of that Thames & Hudson Pop Art softback that all art students had, back in the day.

In much the same way as those slightly naff music compilations can often throw up the odd one-hit-wonder gem, we find ourselves looking at paintings that we instantly recognise, but with no great desire to investigate that artists' other work.

Allen Jones, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield all became 'album artists', as it were, and all went on to refine their concept — but one sees the kernal of their work emerge before you.

Allen Jones, in particular, shows with his paintings that the drama that underscores his best work existed from the off. His female sculptures point to the future slickness of Koons, Hirst and their like. We vividly remember seeing them in Cardiff Oriel art centre a few years after they were made — the feminist demonstrations outside only added to the near-the-knuckle soft porn vibe that the girl as coffee table/hatstand pieces gave off, and still do, decades later.

One also realises that the patina of age can have strange echoes.

Almost the first thing one sees at the gallery is Peter Blake's folded screen, plastered in yellowing fan mag pages. When new, it must have looked somehow cheery and optimistic. Viewed now, we are reminded of the bedsit screen behind which the grim abortion takes place in the film Alfie. Blake's work can sometimes seem twee, but that screen gave us the willies.

Well done, Christies for putting on the excellent exhibition in such a beautiful townhouse. The dark-suited attendants were most friendly, unlike the wannabe Jason Strathams who stand guard outside many of the designer showrooms nearby. If you are at all intimidated by art galleries, we ask you to be brave, smile as you enter, and be thankful that this free exhibition says more, in its three floors, than many an over-inflated blockbuster show. No coffee shop, no merchandise (other than the catalogue ), no little labels telling you what to think — a grown-up show for grown-ups. Highly recommended.

A personal request to those in power: in much the same way as the 2005 Monet / Whistler / Turner show at the Tate Britain gave us all a thrill (and gave Whistler his due recognition), please do the same with Hockney / Jones / Caulfield. We thank you.

When Britain Went Pop runs at Christie's Mayfair, 103 New Bond Street, W1S 1ST until 23 November. Fans of Pop Art can also see the major exhibition at the Barbican until 9 February 2014.

By Ian Brice

Last Updated 04 November 2013