Lawrence Alloway (London, 17 September 1926 – New York, 2 January 1990) was an English art critic and curator who worked in the United States from the 1960s. In the 1950s, he was a leading member of the Independent Group in the UK and in the 1960s was an influential writer and curator in the US. He first used the term "mass popular art" in the mid-1950s and used the term "Pop Art" in the 1960s to indicate that art has a basis in the popular culture of its day and takes from it a faith in the power of images. He was married to artist Sylvia Sleigh.
Early career and the Independent Group
Alloway started writing art reviews for "Art News" in 1953. In his 1954 book Nine Abstract Artists he promoted the Constructivist artists that emerged in Britain after the Second World War: Robert Adams, Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, Anthony Hill, Roger Hilton, Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin, Victor Pasmore and William Scott.
Alloway's theory of art reflecting the concrete materials of modern life gave way to an interest in mass-media and consumerism. Alloway joined the Independent Group in 1952 and lectured on his theory of a circular link between popular cultural low art and high art. From 1955 to 1960 he was Assistant Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. He organised the exhibition Collages and Objects (1954). In 1956 Alloway contributed to organising the exhibition This Is Tomorrow and reviewing that show, and other works he had seen on a trip to the U.S., in a 1958 article, first used the term "mass popular art".
Career in the U.S.
In 1961, Alloway moved to New York with his wife, realist painter Sylvia Sleigh. He was appointed senior curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from 1961 until 1966. In 1963 he organized the pop art show, Six Painters and the Object. He chaired the jury awarding the 1964 Guggenheim Awards, one of which was refused by the painter Asger Jorn.
In 1966, Alloway curated the influential Systemic Painting exhibition that showcased Geometric abstraction in the American art world via Minimal art, Shaped canvas, and Hard-edge painting. Alloway was an ardent supporter of Abstract expressionism and of American Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol. In 1967/68 he joined the Art department faculty as a lecturer at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where McHale and Buckminster Fuller were also on staff at the SIU Design Department. In the 1970s he wrote for The Nation and Artforum and lectured at the State University of New York, Stony Brook where he was appointed professor of art history. There he co-founded the magazine Art Criticism with the critic Donald Kuspit.
In that same year of 1966 Alloway coined the term Systemic Art, to "describe a type of abstract art characterized by the use of very simple standardized forms, usually geometric in character, either in a single concentrated image or repeated in a system arranged according to a clearly visible principle of organization".
In his own words
Concerning the origins of the term Pop Art in his own words Alloway said: "The term, originated in England by me, as a description of mass communications, especially, but not exclusively, visual ones." In a footnote to his essay Pop Art the words, he goes on to say: "The first published appearance of the terms that I know is: Lawrence Alloway, "The Arts and the Mass Media," Architectural Design, February, 1958, London. Ideas on Pop Art were discussed by Reyner Banham, Theo Crosby, Frank Cordell, Toni del Renzio, Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson, John McHale, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alison and Peter Smithson, sculptor William Turnbull, and myself."
However there are contradictory recollections as to the origin of the term: according to John McHale's son his father first coined the term in 1954 in conversation with Frank Cordell, and the term was then used in Independent Group discussions by mid 1955. Alloway used the term 'mass popular art' in his oft quoted 1958 article but he did not use the specific term "Pop Art" in the piece.