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Understanding a pop art pioneer : MMCA Gwacheon’s Richard Hamilton retrospective explores obsessive nature of his work

Nov 16,2017
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Two versions of Richard Hamilton’s “Swingeing London 67,” - an oil painting, far left, and a mixed media work, middle, and the British artist’s self-portrait, right, titled “Palindrome”(1974) are part of a retrospective at MMCA Gwacheon in Gyeonggi. [MMCA]
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“Dining Room” and “Attic” are installed at the MMCA. They are part of Hamilton’s “Seven Rooms” project (1994-95), which shows the artist’s “exploration of the dynamics of space and illusion of reality,” according to the national museum. [MMCA]
GWACHEON, Gyeonggi - Anyone who has ever read an art history book will probably remember the name of British artist Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) for his 1956 photo collage “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” The work is regarded by art historians as one of the earliest works of pop art, preceding American artist Andy Warhol’s famous 1962 works “Cambell’s Soup Cans” and “Marilyn Diptych”

However, even among art fans, those who have not studied British contemporary art in depth may have difficulties naming other works by Hamilton except for his other iconic work “Swingeing London.”

The ongoing retrospective of Hamilton at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s (MMCA) Gwacheon headquarters in Gyeonggi will help Koreans understand the oeuvre of Hamilton, who is not easily categorized as only a pop artist.

The show, titled “Richard Hamilton: Serial Obsessions,” is the British artist’s first-ever retrospective in Asia and is part of UK/KOREA 2017?18, a celebration of cultural ties between the two countries.

While the exhibit does not include the montage “Just what...” they include dozens of pieces that are a part of the “Swingeing London” series, which prove Hamilton’s “serial obsession.”

They are based on the same image - a 1967 newspaper photograph that captures rock star Mick Jagger and then-famous art dealer Robert Fraser handcuffed together in a police van after being caught during a drug bust.

“Hamilton gathered photos and headlines about the case and found how a sensational event involving celebrities could be repeated and reproduced by the media and quickly consumed by the public,” explained co-curator of the exhibition, Yang Okkum.

James Lingwood, a British curator famous for public art projects also participated as a guest curator.

“One reason why the artist continuously reinterprets the same images and themes, producing a series of works, is related with it,” Yang continued. “Another reason is to explore the relationship between images and the technical methods used to create them. He was always interested not only in new techniques for art but also new technologies and cultures of our society. He was an early adopter.”

The works of the “Swingeing London” now on view at the MMCA Gwacheon, look alike, but a closer look reveals that each of them was created through different mediums such as oil painting, silk screen and mixed media with metal on the handcuffs.

The works are on loan from diverse institutions and individuals including the Tate museum in London.

“We tried to loan another from Mick Jagger, as his owns one, but couldn’t as it is currently on display in another exhibition,” Yang said.

The exhibits also include other series of Hamilton’s works that show his “serial obsessions” and experiments.

BY MOON SO-YOUNG [symoon@joongang.co.kr]



The exhibition runs through Jan. 21, 2018. Admission is 2,000 won ($1.81). Go to Seoul Grand Park Station, line No. 4, exit No. 4 and take the shuttle bus.

For details, visit www.mmca.go.kr or call (02) 2188-6114.