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Pop Art Portraits - National Portrait Gallery

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A GROUNDBREAKING exhibition Pop Art Portraits – the first to explore the role and significance of portraiture within one of the world’s most popular and influential art movements – will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery from October 11, 2007 to January 20, 2008.

Conceived as a visual dialogue between American and British Pop Art, this exhibition brings together 52 key works by 28 Pop artists working on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s. These include major portraits by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein alongside those of Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield.

The exhibition examines these artists’ shared engagement with depicting the famous, using images taken from advertising, pop music, the cinema, magazines and newspapers. It also shows how Pop Art shattered the conventions of portraiture, creating a new genre of fantasy portraits using comic books, magazines and other images drawn from popular culture.

Pop Art Portraits is divided into six sections: Precursors of Pop; Portraits and the Question of Style; Fantasy; Film; Marilyn and Innocence and Experience.

The Marilyn section is one of the highlights of the exhibition, bringing together works by British and American Pop artists in the context of their shared obsession with images of Marilyn Monroe. Presented as a secular chapel to one of the late 20th Century’s goddesses, the exhibition reunites several important works originally shown in the celebrated tribute exhibition, Homage to Marilyn Monroe, held at New York’s Sydney Janis Gallery in 1967.

This section focuses on one of the principal themes of the show – the way Pop portraits transformed familiar images into works of art of great technical virtuosity, lasting originality, and enduring fascination.

Other highlights include an important early plaster cast portrait by Jasper Johns; Robert Rauschenberg’s major ‘Combine’ painting, Trophy V, dedicated to his fellow artist and friend, Jasper Johns; a spotlight on Paolozzi’s seminal collages of the early 1950s; Ray Johnson’s proto-Pop portraits of James Dean, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe; and major self portraits by Andy Warhol.

Other works include Jim Dine’s celebrated Green Suit; Lichtenstein’s iconic In the Car; a sensational room of ‘pin-up’ works by Allen Jones, Tom Wesselman, Mel Ramos, Peter Phillps and Peter Blake; Warhol’s famous Marilyn screenprint series; screenings of Warhol’s influential Screen Tests; Rauschenberg’s major early screenprinted painting Express; as well as rarely seen portraits by Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana.

Pop Art Portraits is sponsored by Lehman Brothers.

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