Richard Hamilton retrospective

Richard Hamilton, like his hero Marcel Duchamp, thought art to be about the idea as much as the final work. It is why he could put together disparate cuttings and construct a new visual language of intellectualism, as demonstrated by his Just what is it that make’s today’s homes so different, so appealing?
Like Duchamp’s The Fountain, Hamilton’s masterful collage was ‘so different, so appealing’ to lend a wonderful phrase because it didn’t quite fit in and although the pop artist was working in a post-modern world, it was so utterly fresh and different from what was being made.
“Duchamp was iconoclastic,” Hamilton told John Tusa, the managing director of the Barbican in 2002.
“He always questioned, anything that happened before, and he clearly tried to create a work, which was unique. I say a work, I mean, his life work; his life’s work was something that was completely unique and had never been done before and I think that’s quite deliberate, in fact.”
Hamilton remained committed to a Duchampian approach to art. The tone in his work appeared lighter, certainly, but this was pop art, a sardonic movement that broached serious topics in a wry way.
Compared with the abstract expressionists, it could appear soft, childish, lazy even, but that in itself was a superficial deconstruction. The ‘easy composition’ of such collages didn’t make them any less substantial, especially when Hamilton was putting together a work. With Just what is it … you had a contemporary reading of Adam And Eve struggling to repress their desire for forbidden fruit.
It was executed in 1956, when consumerism was flourishing in much of the western world, and thus, accordingly, replacing apples in the Garden of Eden was a plethora of modern gadgets that were defining how one was perceived in society. Everyone wants more than they need.
The Tate Modern and the Institute of Contemporary Art are hosting what the former describes as the first exhibition to ‘encompass the full scope’ of the artist’s work, which stretches over a fantastic 60-year period. It’s a survey in experimentation, of an individual trying to frame art amidst the increasingly pervasive nature of mass media.
However, he wasn’t necessarily a critic of change. As a pop artist, his appropriation of existing media and manipulating the current cultural framework within which people chose to live their lives – shiny shells harbouring real unease about life – informed much of what he did. And so it was that his work continued to evolve, even if his artistic impulses stayed the same.
“His wartime training in technical engineering drawing as well as his service as a ‘jig and tool’ draftsman at the Design Unit Group during the war also resonated throughout his practice and exhibition design,” the ICA stated in its overview of the show.
“In the post-war era he was an avid follower of new developments in art and design technology, looking to new techniques for visual communication and commercial design being developed in America and Britain.”
Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London runs until May 26th and April 6th respectively.
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