BIELEFELD, GERMANY.- The Kunsthalle Bielefeld presents Richard Hamilton. Virtual Spaces, on view May 25 to August 10, 2008. Richard Hamilton, born in 1922 in London, is one of this centurys groundbreaking artists. Not only has he been credited with the invention of Pop Art, but he was also the first artist to devote himself to a continual study of the mechanization and digitalization of images. As early as 1949 he was dissecting his motifs and referencing Marcel Duchamps Nude Descending a Staircase in order to pose the question of how an object changes when in motion.
A student at the Royal Academy of Arts in London at the age of just sixteen, Hamilton learned how to produce images that were correct in terms of anatomy and perspective, and later, he studied engineering drafting during World War II. Afterward his participation in contemporary cultural exhibitions, such as 1951s Growth and Form at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, inspired him to develop his own morphology. Over the next fifty years, this study of structure primarily focused on domestic and technical objects, as well as portraits. Exhibitions such as 1953s Parallel of Life and Art and Man, Machine and Motion, as well as This is Tomorrow in 1956which featured Hamiltons famous collage containing the word popdemonstrated how Hamilton meticulously researched a visual universe in which, as he himself said, bubbles take certain shapes.
In the nineteen-fifties, inspired by a book by Claude Shannon, Hamilton believed that the binary system would create what was required to depict every kind of motif. For him, this was the birth of the digital age. Since the early nineteen-seventies, when it became possible to buy computers, Hamilton has made use of the most advanced hardware and software available in the digitalized generation of his own works. Employing the latest image processing programs and printers, he even began altering his earlier works, perfecting them yet a second time. The biggest gift that an avowed collagist can receive from a computer, says Hamilton, is a measure of control.
Early on, there was his own famous Pop Art collage from 1956, Just what is it that makes todays homes so different, so appealing?, which he updated at the request of the BBC in 1994. This historical collage featured a man, a woman, and found images that reflected the themes of history, food, newspapers, cinema, television, and comics. Its first backdrop was an ordinary postcard of a simple hotel room in Spain. Adjusting the proportions of the room, he gradually added objects from the time period, until the moment of truth appeared, and the work of art was finished in his eyes.
Hamiltons exhibition, Virtual Rooms, not only features great examples of his work from the last fifteen years, but it also documents how, since 1994, the artist has used apparently simple images (for instance, a postcard of a young Japanese bride and groom) to charge his variations in ways involving narrative technology and epistemology. His constant experiments in digitalization have resulted in masterpieces. Yet despite this perfection, there always seem to be alternatives to these results. In the meantime, Hamilton has not only paid homage to Duchamp, but also to other artists, such as Jan van Eyck, Diego Velázquez, Vermeer van Delft, and Fra Angelico. Aesthetically, his latest works are almost like Renaissance art. At the same time, they proclaim that they can also be assembled differently in the future.
Hamilton first revealed the path he took to achieve his digital masterpieces in 2006, at the Alan Cristea Gallery in London. Under the title Painting by Numbers he presented 63 alternatives to particularly well-known prints. In a single interior, he showed abstract ideas next to figurative expressions or fluctuations of light. One of his most recent prints, a digital inkjet print called The Annunciation (2005), became a reflection of another series of pictures, A Host of Angels, a year later. In 2007 the artist showed it at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa during the Venice Biennial.
With an exhibition of more than eighty works, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld will be the first institution to present both of Hamiltons groups of works together, along with 68 prints from the five-part group of works Painting by Numbers (19942005), in conjunction with a series of fourteen canvases dated 1993 to 2007, A Host of Angels. Selected works from the nineteen-nineties on loan from a variety of museums have been added. Hamiltons latest group of works, Toaster, will also be introduced; it is based on an incunabulum of Pop Art, his Toaster made of metal, wood, and paper (1964). The exhibition will be an extensive, extremely contemporary documentation of Richard Hamiltons works from the past fifteen years.
In the Kunsthalle, designed by Philip Johnson with allusions to the Romanesque, the work by the now 86-year-old artist will be shown in a uniquely profound atmosphere. Hamilton will discuss his work in a film accompanying the exhibition. Edition Hansjörg Mayer will publish individual German and English editions of catalogues about both groups of works; they will be available as a pair for the special price of 28.
The first exhibition of Hamiltons works at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld was in 1978. At that time, two hundred works on paper were used to trace the process of his studies from 1937 on. In the new Richard Hamilton. Virtual Rooms, young people between 16 and 26 will be introduced to the techniques of collage and Hamiltons installation at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, thanks to a program called Hamilton Special. The exhibition is sponsored by the NRW.Bank in Düsseldorf, which has acquired all 68 parts of Hamiltons Painting by Numbers group (2007).