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Hamilton in Madrid

Exhibition at the MNCARS


The work of Richard Hamilton (1922–2011) – polyhedral, uninhibited, long-winded, indifferent to distinctions between genres – is hard to classify. This is a fact that, if possible, gives even greater importance to the major exhibition that up to 13 October is on view at the Reina Sofía National Museum and Art Center (MNCARS) in the city of Madrid. Curated by Vicente Todolí and Paul Schimmel, this is the largest retrospective (270 works) ever to be devoted to the British artist, besides in a way amounting to an artistic testament, having been conceived five years ago by Hamilton himself, who died before seeing the end of a project he had thought of as an ‘exhibition of exhibitions’. It was precisely an exhibition, This is Tomorrow, which he himself inspired in 1956, that made him famous, thanks to a collage with architectural echoes that depicted a bodybuilder and a topless playmate together in a domestic interior of the period. Entitled Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, this very famous collage was the start of pop art, which a year later Hamilton described in a letter to the Smithsons as “popular, ephemeral, disposable, cheap, mass produced, young, clever, sexy, fun, glamorous, and Big Business.” Pop art was definitely a big business, but this does not in any way diminish the worth of an extraordinary career where the British artist – who was heir, after all, to Duchamp – anticipated appropriation in art, the installation, and video art, and fed on mass culture without sacrificing social and political critique.

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