Pop Art Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London is the first exhibition to explore the role and significance of portraiture within one of the world's most popular and influential art movements.
Running until January 20 2008, the exhibition works as a fascinating visual dialogue between American and British Pop Art and brings together 52 key works by 28 Pop artists working on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s. It's an apt approach as pop art really emerged simultaneously as a parallel visual art movement in both countries.
As a result the exhibition includes some big names, with major portraits by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, alongside those of Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield.
These artists' shared engagement with depicting the famous, using images taken from advertising, pop music, the cinema, magazines and newspapers, is examined to show how Pop Art shattered the conventions of portraiture, creating a new genre of fantasy with images drawn from popular culture.
The exhibition explores Pop Art's complex and enormously creative engagement with portraiture and is divided into six sections: Precursors of Pop; Portraits and the Question of Style; Fantasy; Film; Marilyn; and Innocence and Experience.
A highlight of the exhibition is the Marilyn section, which brings 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 screen goddesses, the exhibition reunites several important works originally shown in the celebrated tribute exhibition, Homage to Marilyn Monroe, held at Sydney Janis Gallery, New York, in 1967.
This section also reflects 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 and 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 also make an appearance together with major self portraits by Andy Warhol. Pop Art afficianados will also welcome the chance to see Jim Dine's celebrated Green Suit; Lichtenstein's iconic In the Car and 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 are also present together with screenings of Warhol's influential Screen Tests; Rauschenberg's major early screenprinted painting Express and rarely seen portraits by Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana.
Together these works make Pop Art Portraits an exciting opportunity to see an important art movement in a new light with the idea of the portrait being extended through the work of these innovative artists.
Text by 24 Hour Museum