Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Mixed Media: Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern

There was a major retrospective of the work of Richard Hamilton at the Tate Modern in 2014. He is acknowledged as the inventor of 'Pop Art' which he described as 'popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business.'

The exhibition reconstructs his installation Fun House, originally shown as part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s 1956 show This Is Tomorrow. It incorporates film, music, distorted architecture, op art and Hollywood film imagery and pin-ups such as Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, and Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. It is an homage to 'Americana', as well as a celebration of the new youth and 'pop' culture of 1950s capitalism.

In his 1956 collage Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? Hamilton has a muscle-man provocatively holding a lolly with the word POP and a woman with bare breasts wearing a lampshade hat, surrounded by emblems of the affluence of 1950s capitalism from a vacuum cleaner to a large canned ham. Capitalism is portrayed as 'cool', it was riding high in its 'golden age' of the post-war economic boom, the reformists believed capitalism could work in the interests of the working class, and Macmillan proclaimed 'people have never had it so good.' Hamilton particularly admired the German electrical company Braun and its Chief Design Officer Dieter Rams whose 'consumer products came to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that Mont Sainte-Victoire did in C├ęzannes', and in 1964 he began to base works on Braun's marketing images.

After the failure of Keynesian capitalism in the 1970s, Hamilton was horrified by the 1980s capitalist restructuring under Thatcher, and the reintroduction of unfettered free market capitalism. His 1984 installation Treatment Room is inspired by the bleak, clinical style of the capitalist state reflected in the DHSS office or NHS hospital waiting room. A TV monitor where the X-ray machine would be repeats footage of Thatcher from the 1983 Tory Party Conference. His War Games (1991-92) used TV news footage of the 1991 Gulf War which portrayed the war as a sport for viewers and reminds us of the BBC Newsnight coverage with Peter Snow's sandpit and models. Later Hamilton portrays 'war criminal' Tony Blair as a gun-toting cowboy against a backdrop of military inferno in Shock and Awe (2010).

The Hamilton retrospective has some salutary lessons: you cannot 'reform' capitalism to work in the interests of the working class, and war is endemic to capitalism due to competition between capitalist groups for raw materials such as oil in the Middle East.
Steve Clayton

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Just tidying up. Bear with me.