Guggenheim (black) 1970
Richard Hamilton (1922 – 2011)
- 600 x 600 x 100 mm
- Vacuum formed acrylic and cellulose
- Accession number
The ‘Guggenheim Reliefs’ bolster Richard Hamilton’s position at the bookends of Pop Art in Britain. With Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956),(1 )a tiny collage for the Independent Group exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’, Hamilton had provided an index to everything British Pop Art was to explore. Acclaimed and spurred on by the younger generation of artists emerging from the Royal College – Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Allen Jones et al. – Hamilton’s work from the latter half of the 1960s went from strength to strength. By 1970, always fascinated by new technology, Hamilton was redirecting advances in product design into fine art, with the backing of xartcollection, Zurich, a young company that pioneered the production of multiples with the aim of bringing art to a wider audience.
In the mid-1950s, Hamilton had looked away from Britain, still overshadowed by post-war austerities, to America, a beacon of glam¬our, prosperity, possibility. Yet he did not actually visit America until 1963, after which he asked Lawrence Alloway, then curator at the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art, New York, to send photographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s building, already an icon just a few years after its opening. These provided the starting point for Hamilton to work through a simulation of the architectural process, ‘from visualisation of the building to the planning to construction and even later to photo¬graphing and publicising’.(2) The concept of environmental art – as seen in Hamilton’s collaboration with Alloway and Victor Pasmore on ‘An Exhibit’ (1957)(3) – is turned inside out. Instead of starting with the art¬work and working outwards to engage with a space, the Guggenheim Reliefs start with a work of architecture and condense it into a cast. The present series is a triple exclamation mark in black, white and chrome, punctuating the original set of drawings, prints and six fibreglass reliefs.(4) It was thought that the high cost of creating the moulds would be offset by producing a large edition of 750. In the event, the project was unex¬pectedly difficult and the edition stopped at 271. (Xartcollection went bust in 1973.)
Hamilton addresses his own question, ‘Does the neutrality of Duchamp or the studied banality, even vulgarity, of the subject-matter in most American Pop Art significantly exclude those products of mass culture which might be the choice of a NY Museum of Modern Art “Good Design” committee from our consideration?’(5) He controls the Guggenheim’s assertive presence by not only engineering a false perspec¬tive for the reliefs (suggesting concentric circles rather than a winding spiral), but also colouring each relief differently, fishing for new associa¬tions. The fibreglass series had been painted in tints derived from post¬cards, whereas colour was innate to the material of the vacuum-formed trio, and redolent of new-fangled goods, from sex-shop-black, to wash¬ing-machine-white and the chromium plating of a brand-new toaster. Hamilton is providing the kind of range to be expected from any good retailer, and in so doing, ties bows with what Reyner Banham saw as a ‘cordon sanitaire’ between architecture and pop art – the ‘deep seated desire by the profession that architecture remain a humane “consultant” service to humanity, not styling in the interests of sales promotion.’(6) It is no coincidence that vacuum forming was by 1970 the acme of standard product packaging. The Guggenheim Reliefs imply that a museum is the ultimate packaging for the ultimate consumable (fine art). They also convert that packaging into an art product. So impressed was Hamilton by the Guggenheim that it literally bulges through in his work, while the exhibition context finds itself reflected in the reliefs’ shiny surfaces.
1. Kunsthalle Tübingen.
2. Richard Morphet, Richard Hamilton, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1970), 67.
3. Curated by Hamilton, Alloway and Pasmore, ‘An Exhibit’ was shown at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, and the ICA, London.
4. The series was first exhibited in 1966 at the Robert Fraser Gallery, London.
5. Richard Hamilton, Collected Words 1953–1982 (London: Thames & Hudson, 1982), 72.
6. Reyner Banham, ‘Towards a Pop Architecture’, Architectural Review (July 1962), quoted in David Robbins (ed.), The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 175.
Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009