Richard Hamilton at the Tate 17/03/14

Richard Hamilton’s retrospective at the Tate Modern, shows his work spanning from the 1950s to his final work in 2011. It includes design, posters, painting, photography and television, and features iconic work such as Just what is it that makes modern homes so different, so appealing? along with key images from 1960s London and political art from the Thatcher and Blair eras.

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Installations are noticeably prominent throughout the show.  The power of Hamilton’s installations is reconfirmed by ‘Treatment Room’, a deeply political work that depicts the late Margaret Thatcher in all her patronising glory, but also somewhat weakened by the discordant room given over to Hamilton’s copy of Duchamp’s The Large Glass. To me, Hamilton is strongest when he is at his most original, and thus the admiration of Duchamp doesn’t appeal to me in this instance.

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Treatment Room’, 1984

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965-6, lower panel remade 1985 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

‘Large Glass’, 1915-23

In comparison his works that appropriate items from the mass media are reasonabley powerful. His use of Braun toasters, renamed ‘Brown’, are a good antidote for those sick with the seemingly omnipresent Campbell’s soup tins, and his Richard ash trays and bottles, made in the same font as the French liquor Ricard, are witty antecedents to Gavin Turk’s Turkeyfoil that I found so appealing at ‘Pop Art to Britart’ in Nottingham. [November 2013]

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Toaster – deluxe study VII, 2008

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‘The Critic Laughs’, 1971-2

“My admiration for [Dieter Rams’ work/Braun] is intense and I have for years been uniquely attracted towards his design sensibility,” Richard Hamilton wrote in a text for an exhibition of the Braun designer’s work at the Berlin Design Centre, in 1980. “So much so that his consumer products have come to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that the Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézanne’s.”

It’s a suitably strong statement for an artist who continued to celebrate all things new up until his death in 2011, aged 89.

Hamilton worked as an apprentice draughtsman at an electrical components firm before becoming an artist and throughout his life he remained interested in the finish and allure of consumer products, even designing for a few different manufacturers.

“Like a lot of people, he admired the sleek minimal design of Rams’s products,” the exhibition’s curator, Mark Godfrey told phaidon.com. “In our catalogue, the design journalist Alice Rawsthorn looks at how Rams’s goods once occupied a position now taken by Jonathan Ive’s designs for Apple, so you can see why someone who knew something about design would take an interest in them. What’s more interesting is Hamilton’s decision to make artworks based on them.”

I noticed throughout the show that Hamilton’s studies of the Braun goods often reproduced the items’ reflective surface, suggesting, perhaps, the consumer’s desire to see themselves reflected in the goods they bought?

 

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‘Still-life’

To me, Hamilton’s political works are his strongest. Tony Blair as a gun slinging cowboy in Shock and Awe still remains a withering portrayal of a Prime Minister whose reputation is becoming more and more divisive with time. The slight smirk perfectly captures the character of Blair: self-assured, occasionally blurring into arrogance.

The message of the image, which shows Blair in a cowboy shirt, jeans and boots with two holstered guns, set in front of an ominous, smouldering landscape, is clear. The portrait has an undeniable link to one of America’s ultimate cowboys, former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Hamilton defended his right to paint whatever he wants to portray, regardless of how controversial the resulting image is. He said: ‘What I always say is: I do whatever I feel like.

‘People don’t seem to understand that an artist is free to do whatever he wants, and I’ve always relished that possibility.’

 

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‘Shock and Awe’, 2007

Posthumous retrospectives are notoriously difficult to pull off. They lack the celebratory note of those given to artists at the end of their career and having them too close to the artist’s passing risks not fully understanding the importance and impact of their work. The Tate have dealt with both these issues with typical mastery, delivering an exhibition fit for the standing of its subject.

What I liked about the show:

The Richard Hamilton retrospective is “a knockout”, says Mark Hudson in the Daily Telegraph.

I thought the show was, lucid and comprehensive. It bought together substantial clusters of work that clearly chart his evolution which does the artist proud.

It is “a massive eye-muddling show”, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times.

Hamilton’s quick-witted humour and satire strike the viewer in several oh the works, but what slowly emerges is an underlying sense of compassion, which lends a fundamentally human and timeless dimension to his work.

This retrospective shows Richard Hamilton was a magnificent chronicler of his times, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. “If anyone doubts his importance, it more than confirms his significance”

The show reminds us that artists have things to say about the world that are worth listening to.

Negative press:

“Where Hamilton’s work falls down is when it tells us too obviously what to think”, sometimes with clunky satire, says Mark Hudson in the Telegraph.  – I agree to some extent, but I think if his work is uneven, it’s better to be flawed and interesting, than consistent and boring.

 

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