Socialist Worker

Richard Hamilton exhibtion: Pop Art pioneer had a political project

by Jenny Leow
Issue No. 2392

This retrospective brings together five decades of the late Richard Hamilton’s work. The sheer variety is almost disorientating.

It includes a print of his famous collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? This was one of the first examples of Pop Art—a term that Hamilton invented.

His groundbreaking installation Fun House (1956) immerses you in images from movie posters, magazines and art history, the smell of a strawberry-scented floor and the sounds of other visitors’ disembodied voices from an unseen microphone.

This bombardment of the senses is fascinating, with an unsettling edge that captures the seductive yet sickening paradox of consumerism.

Hamilton was engaged with politics throughout his career.

Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland (1963) shows the Labour leader who blocked nuclear disarmament as a science fiction phantom.

The installation Treatment Room (1983-4) is a walk-in operating theatre where a muted television screen looms over an empty bed showing silent images of Margaret Thatcher.

As one of three diptych paintings about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Hamilton painted a Christ-like IRA prisoner engaged in a “dirty protest”.

Hamilton saw a “mythic power” in images of prisoners in cells they had covered in their own excrement to demand the status of political prisoners.

The highlight of the exhibition is an ongoing exploration of the power of the image. Hamilton looked at how reality is mediated through photography, television and mass reproduction.

The most striking piece is Kent State (1970). Hamilton took a photo of his television as it showed an Ohio student gunned down by US cops on a protest against the war in Vietnam.

He then reproduced it as a dozen blurred prints.

After having been through so many translations and transmissions, the body of the student is scarcely discernible. 

Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern, central London, until 26 May, £14.50/£12.50

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Tue 25 Feb 2014, 18:25 GMT
Issue No. 2392
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