A Pop Art Extravaganza At The British Museum

The American Dream: Pop to Present, The British Museum ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 87 months ago

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Last Updated 07 March 2017

A Pop Art Extravaganza At The British Museum The American Dream: Pop to Present, The British Museum 4
We love Ed Ruscha's gas stations. The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.© Ed Ruscha. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

'Pay Attention Motherfuckers'. That's the message from Bruce Nauman, greeting us at this American printmaking blockbuster.

The show opens with these colourful Marilyns by Andy Warhol.

They've got our attention, and continue to hold it, with brightly-coloured gusto in the first room. There's a wall of Warhol's Marilyn Monroes, comic strip violence from Roy Lichtenstein and a giant three-way plug by Claes Oldenburg.

Without time to catch our breath, we're taken on a journey through the modern art movements: abstract, minimalism, photorealism and portraiture.

The American flags by Jasper Johns is one of his most famous works. © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2016. © Tom Powel Imaging.

The British Museum has wheeled out all the big guns — including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close and Donald Judd.

A Keith Haring drawing attention to the danger of Aids.

We see just how much these artists and movements commented on society: the Guerilla Girls draw attention to the lack of female artists in museums, while Keith Haring approaches the stigma of Aids with simple but devastating cartoons.

The Guerilla Girls making the case for equal representation of women in museums.

A whistlestop tour, each section is fleeting — but that's necessary to keep the flow of this ginormous show going.

A warning to those who like their exhibitions to focus on a small area in massive detail: this is not one of those. Yet its all-encompassing nature makes The American Dream accessible to those not already steeped in art history.

Jenny Holzer includes inflammatory statements in her work.

The show continues apace, chock-full of memorable artworks including Ed Ruscha's gas stations and those swimming pool prints by Hockney.

A Claes Oldenburg Chrysler.

Holding it all together is a short film that covers America from the 1960s to today in under five minutes. Martin Luther King speaks, race riots explode, the Ku Klux Klan act extremely racistly, the moon landings wow the world, and Obama talks about diversity.

Even though this is a massive show, it's broken up well — and never really flags.

We couldn't finish without a few Lichtensteins.

The two previous exhibitions in this space, Sunken Cities and Defining Beauty, were spectacular. While The American Dream doesn't hit the heady heights of its predecessors, it still snaps, crackles and pops with life.

The American Dream: pop to the present is on at The British Museum until 18 June. Tickets are £16.50 for adults and the exhibition opens late on Fridays.

For more art see our latest roundup of reviews.