Student Ambassador Naomi Graham reveals her thoughts on Tate Modern’s current exhibition about Richard Hamilton…
Throughout his 60 year career, Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) was always one step ahead of the times. Heralded as one of the founding figures of pop art, his attachment to changing culture has made him one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Tate Modern’s new retrospective is simply titled Richard Hamilton, marking an exhibition that attempts to include all, tackling all the themes and facets of Hamilton’s work. And that is no small task.
Very much a Jack of all media (in the best possible sense), the Tate show celebrates Hamilton’s engagement with everything from oil and watercolour, magazine cut-ups, exhibition design and installation to screenprints and photography. This experimentation was informed by his early involvement with the Independent Group, who also included the likes of Eduardo Paolozzi, Nigel Henderson, Lawrence Alloway and architects Alison and Peter Smithson. The Group met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts between 1952 and 1955 and it was here that Hamilton first introduced mass culture into debates about high art.
As with other blockbuster retrospectives at Tate dealing with long careers, such as the Roy Lichtenstein this time last year, the curation takes a loosely chronological approach. Given that Hamilton’s way of working often moved from one thing to another quite rapidly, the exhibition almost themes itself. At first, specific years are tied neatly together with themes but by the second half the room concepts are broader, reflecting longer periods of time and overarching ideas.
The first room comes as a bit of a surprise, feeling sparse and sterile. There are no gallery labels (shock horror) but it soon becomes clear that this is the recreation of an exhibition curated by Hamilton rather than Tate. With its papier-mâché grids and Ladderax domestic shelving filled with an eclectic mix of bones and shells (some genuine, some created), On Growth and Form from 1951 blurs the lines between art and science and is the first mark of Hamilton’s fascination with the multidisciplinary.
The recreation of the seminal 1956 exhibition This is Tomorrow signals to the Swinging Sixties (or Swingeing Sixties as he called them in a Duchamp-esque pun) before they’ve even happened. Arguably the exhibition reconstructions are the most interesting and effective aspect of the show. They serve to contextualise Hamilton’s work in its original gallery setting (something we often attempt as art historians) while simultaneously highlighting the decontextualisation of the artworks from their original time. For example, the jukebox that blurts out peppy 50s pop music was a part of the everyday in 1956 but for us is one of the ultimate symbols of ‘retro’ and kitsch.
As art historians, we are often concerned with pivotal moments: artworks that mark a break from the past or form the catalyst for a new movement or way of working. The original collage of Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing?, 1956, is too fragile and faded to be featured in the exhibition but has been substituted by a digital print. It is believed to be one of the first pieces of pop art, irreverently bringing together evidence of the modern-day ‘everyday’. In it, an updated Adam and Eve are situated incongruously in a domestic interior made up of various magazine and advertisement cuttings. It is vapid and superficial, just like his time.
In the pop period Hamilton challenged ideas about photography being a ‘true’ reflection of life with images that unpicked the fantasy of celebrity and advertising. As Naomi Klein highlights in her 1999 book No Logo, advertisements do not sell products but lifestyles; they represent the desires and aspirations of a particular age. Collage, with its play on two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality, further enhances ideas of touch and desire. The changing aspirations of the second half of the twentieth century are reduced by Hamilton into a series of commodities. These objects, within the interiors, mark the changing desires of society across the decades.
These methods of appropriating everyday objects and presenting them as high art strongly recall the work of Marcel Duchamp, who greatly influenced Hamilton throughout his career. He had much to do with the cataloguing and installation of The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp at the Tate in 1966 and was granted permission by Duchamp to make a reconstruction of his Large Glass for the show, as it was too fragile to travel from Philadelphia. The retrospective makes a point of their similarities, especially in their use of mechanical processes.
In the 1970s, Hamilton turned to more scatological themes and Hamilton plays with contrasts in his Flower Piece paintings, which juxtapose ‘glamour and shit’ and, he claims, are an updated memento mori. By the 1980s, Hamilton’s political motivations were channelled somewhat explicitly through his artwork. The reconstruction of Treatment Room, an installation for an Arts Council group exhibition in 1984, is perhaps the most chilling of Hamilton’s works on display.
The installation marks Hamilton’s perception of the shift in British culture after the post-war optimism and hope for a better future was never realised. The cold and clinical interior is a complete reversal of that from Just what is it that makes today’s home so interesting, so appealing? and is a stark contrast to the classical interior that forms the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 Conservative Election Broadcast, which plays on the monitor above the bed. Although some may criticise these works as lacking subtlety, in many ways the can be seen as a natural extension from the brashness of the advertisements Hamilton used in his early collages.
Always hypersensitive to changing times, Hamilton did not shy away from the digital age, fully embracing digital photography and photo manipulation in his later work. In his 1994 show for the Anthony d’Offay Gallery he used computer programmes to paste photographs he had taken of his Oxfordshire home onto images he had of the bare gallery interior.
Now moving towards digital collage, the image is manipulated to appear as if the painting is already hanging. When printed onto canvas and displayed in the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, the viewer would get a double view of the space and its surrounding architecture. Some of this is lost in its display at Tate but the idea of the interior within the interior within the interior still plays out quite well. It also doesn’t stop us making other links between his works. In The Annunciation, 2005, the seated woman speaking on a cordless telephone is perhaps a playful nod to the woman on the (corded) telephone in Just what is it from 1956. Like Duchamp, Hamilton wanted to ‘knock his own ideas out the window’.
Overall, this exhibition allows the viewer to successfully trace the full diversity of Hamilton’s work. You see where ideas came from, how they developed and where they ended up. You move through the times with him, following his dry, sometimes sarcastic, comments on the way things were, are and will be.Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off
Today we welcomed students from New College Swindon to The Courtauld for a days workshop on the theme ‘Digital Art History?’. Over the next couple of weeks they will be making Pinterest boards on their chosen artworks from the gallery. But for now, they have summed up today’s research with the ‘tweets’ below. See our live twitter page for some of them too!
The artist Cranach sometimes signs his paintings with a winged serpent #sneakyCranach
Not only a commodity but a vendor of ‘love’ #Manet #deepthinker
‘I like women best when they don’t know how to read’ #Renoir’stype
Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off
Hello my name is Megan and I am a student ambassador for the project Animating Art History. Before I get stuck in and tell all about what we’ve been up to, I should probably explain a bit about what Animating Art History actually is! Animating Art History is a project that combines the practices of photography and animating with the skill of observation and research! We work alternately between The Courtauld Institute of Art and Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design to offer a unique opportunity to experience the combined expertise of two institutes and the chance to make the most of their specialist facilities, be they the dark rooms and animation equipment at CSM, or the highly specialised library at The Courtauld and, of course, the gallery!
(See: http://www.courtauld.org.uk/aah/ for more ‘Animating Art History’ info!)
This week we were based at The Courtauld and the session looked particularly at Curation and Narrative. The students began by taking a look around The Courtauld Gallery and considering the relationships between the works of art on the walls. For those of you who are not familiar with the term ‘Curator’ it is basically the person that decides which works of art they want to show and how they want to show them! The process of curating requires a lot of thought and so we were looking to see how and if the decisions of the curators shaped and influenced our understanding about what we were seeing. There are several ways to curate a gallery space – it could be thematic or chronological for example, both ways lending themselves to a particular way of understanding art and its history!
With these thoughts fresh in our minds, we headed back to The Courtauld Institute for a talk by two current Courtauld students that curated an exhibition at The Institute. It is called ‘INTERACT: Deconstructing Spectatorship’ and the works in the exhibition can be seen hanging up on the walls in out teaching and learning spaces – the aim of which being to liven up the environment that we spend every day studying in. ‘INTERACT’ is particularly interesting because the viewer and the audience of the show are given as much importance as the artworks themselves! The show is arranged (‘curated’) to explore the different ways that we, as viewers, experience art. Check out: www.eastwingbiennial.org for more info!
We then watched a short section of a film called ‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay that had a recurring theme about time, and considered how a narrative could be constructed through film. Short clips of this 24 hour film can be found on Youtube, and it is certainly worth a watch! Christian Marclay painstakingly selected scenes from other films to create his day-long montage, paying particular attention to ensure that he included clips that showed clocks, watches, and snatches of people saying what time is was so that, when watched from the beginning, whatever time is shown on the film is also the time that it is in real time!
(Check out this link for a short clip! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKHmj83VC78)
Finally, it was our chance to have a go at curating! By looking through a selection of images and postcards, we came up with a theme of our own and created an imaginary show. The themes that the students came up with included everything from a focus on landscapes, to colour and nudes. Now that we are fully-fledged curators, I wonder what next week holds in store…
For anyone that is free on Sunday 30th March, come along to the next ‘INTERACT’ Open Day between 12-4pm and see the exhibition for yourself!
Megan Youell, Student AmbassadorCategories: Uncategorized | Comments Off
Check out our great new video made by a student ambassador Hannah Dixon. Hannah interviews three students who have attended our Art History Summer University in 2012 to see how it has helped them 18 months on…Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: film, student ambassador, summer university, widening participation | Comments Off
Before half term we visited Sheffield for an outreach workshop with some year 11 students. After a morning in the classroom, we checked out the artist residency in Site Gallery. A great day had by all!
Check out the photos on our Facebook page!
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: art history, art sheffield, contemporary art, Helen Carmel Benigson, outreach, sheffield, site gallery, widening participation | Comments Off
See our blog entry on our Stories of the World project on the NPG’s Understanding British Portrait network. Great to revisit the Look again… exhibition and it’s fascinating portraits.
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: British portraiture, CourtauldGallery, historical portraiture, National Portrait Gallery, photography, Queen Charlotte, Sealy brothers, self portraits, Tilly Kettle, William Beechey, young people | Comments Off
Animating Art History 2014 kicked off last Thursday with a session on surfaces. Check out the brilliant photos from The Gallery and around Somerset House by the young people involved!
For more information see our webpage
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Animating Art History, art history, contemporary art, CourtauldGallery, higher education, widening participation, young people | Comments Off
I have been asked to write about The Courtauld’s Widening Participation Summer University, which I attended two years ago. As a current first year student I honestly can say that I would not be here if it wasn’t for the scheme! We went to galleries, attended lectures, researched in the libraries and also worked in groups for presentations that rounded off the week.
Here are my 5 reflections on the Summer University:
SUBJECT – Several participants, including myself were not entirely sure if the subject was for us – it helped us decide what paths were best for our interests. I particularly found the lectures engaging, you could see the passion of the speaker come through, it does rub off onto you!
PEER NETWORK – It was a great opportunity to make relationships with students from other schools, united by similar interests – two other applicants also study here with me now!
LONDON UNIVERSITY LIFE – By exploring the gallery and other resources available, I experienced the city as a learning environment. Walking into Somerset House every day is quite a unique feeling.
RESOURCES – Few institutions offer the wide variety and quality of resources such as The Courtauld, even if you only spend a few days here, you are sure to remember them! Lecturers and collections alike are world renowned and we were very lucky to have them at our fingertips. They are very much different to those I was used to at school, and we were encouraged to take advantage of them!
ALL QUESTIONS ANSWERED – Undoubtedly you will have hundreds of questions (as I did) about art history, the application process etc, all of which were answered by both members of staff and student ambassadors, from more than one point of view.
Current BA student at The Courtauld Institute of Art, and alumni of The Courtauld’s Summer University.
Please note this is a free non-residential course designed for non-selective state school students whose parents or carers have not previously gone to university or who currently receive Income Support or Tax Credits. For more information email email@example.com or visit http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/degreeprogrammes/admissions/open/summer-uniCategories: Uncategorized | Tags: arthistory, CourtauldGallery, CourtauldInstitute, PublicProgrammes, summeruniversity, widening participation, youngpeople | Comments Off
The British Council has a competition for Young People who are inspired by Museums to put their pen to paper… Or fingers to keyboard…
Why don’t you check it out here?
If you write about our collection we would love to hear about it!Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off
Here is our prediction for the top 10 exhibitions of 2014…
- Hannah Hoch, Whitechapel Gallery, 15 Jan
- Jeremy Deller, William Morris, 18 Jan
- Sensing Spaces, RA, 25 Jan
- Richard Hamilton, ICA, 12 Feb, Tate Modern, 13 Feb
- Court and Craft: A masterpiece from Northern Iraq, Courtauld Gallery, 20 Feb
- Vikings, British Museum, 6 March
- Matisse, Tate Modern, 17 April
- Modrian and Colour, Turner Contemporary, 24 May
- Ryan Trecartin, Zabvlodowicz, 2 Oct
- Egon Schiele, Courtauld Gallery, 23 Oct
Get them in your diary!Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: 2014, exhibition, gallery, The Courtauld Gallery, top10, youngpeople | Comments Off