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Pop Art: Who Did it Better? The Brits vs. the Americans


A new must-see show, "When Britain Went Pop!," makes the case that the movement popularly associated with Andy Warhol actually originated across the pond. In 1952, a fresh wave of British artists and thinkers called the Independent Group—including Lawrence Alloway, who later coined the term Pop Art—gathered to explore American mass media. They paved the way for Peter Blake, David Hockney, and others whose work will appear in the first comprehensive exhibition of British Pop Art ever held in London. Here, a brief primer on three iconic British works and their American counterparts.

1. Brit-Pop: Peter Blake, Kim Novak Wall, 1959
American Analogue: Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962

Blake "used repetition in a way that anticipates Warhol," says art scholar Marco Livingstone, who wrote the catalog essay that accompanies the show. "Warhol would translate photographs into silk-screened prints, whereas Blake would either paint from the photographic source by hand or use the actual photograph and collage it onto the surface."

2. Brit-Pop: Allen Jones, First Step, 1966
American Analogue: Tom Wesselmann's series "The Great American Nude," begun 1961

David Hockney had turned Jones on to "transvestite magazines," Livingstone says. "Fetish illustration, in particular. He started getting catalogs from Frederick's of Hollywood and found in that area of commercial illustration a very vibrant and intense way to erotically treat the female figure." Like the work of Tom Wesselmann—whose "Great American Nude" series is still attacked as sexist—Jones' sexually provocative paintings and sculptures are enduring magnets for controversy, Livingstone says.

3. Brit-Pop: Gerald Laing, Number Seventy-One, 1965
American Analogue: Roy Lichtenstein, Girl With Ball, 1961

Unlike Lichtenstein, whose signature Benday-dot paintings were inspired by comic books, Laing aimed to reproduce the distancing effect of dotted newspaper photographs. "He dealt with hot subjects in a very cool, detached way," Livingstone says, referring to the late artist's portraits of "bikini girls and starlets" like Brigitte Bardot.

Exhibition dates: October 9–November 24 at Christie's Mayfair, 103 New Bond St., London, christies.com

—Details senior editor Laurence Lowe.

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Meet the Venice Biennale's Youngest Director, Massimiliano Gioni

Photographs, in order: © Allen Jones/Allen Jones Collection/Courtesy of Institute for Cultural Exchange, Tü bingen/Courtesy of Christie's; © ACS, 2013/Courtesy of Waddington Custot Galleries, London/Courtesy of Christie's; © Peter Blake, 2013/Private Collection/Courtesy of Christie's Images 2003.

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