Richard Hamilton's love of Braun

As the Tate prepares its major retrospective, we look at Britain's foremost pop artist's admiration for Dieter Rams
The Critic Laughs (1971-2) by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) IVAM, Insitut Valencia d'Art Modern, Generalitat © The estate of Richard Hamilton
The Critic Laughs (1971-2) by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) IVAM, Insitut Valencia d'Art Modern, Generalitat © The estate of Richard Hamilton


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"My admiration for [Dieter Rams' work] is intense and I have for years been uniquely attracted towards his design sensibility," Richard Hamilton wrote in a text for an exhibition of the Braun designer's work at the Berlin Design Centre, in 1980. "So much so that his consumer products have come to occupy a place in my heart and consciousness that the Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézanne's."

It's a suitably strong statement for an artist who continued to celebrate all things new up until his death in 2011, aged 89. Now, as the Tate Modern prepares to open a retrospective - the first to encompass the full scope of Hamilton's work - does it become clear that his artist statement wasn't simple provocation.

 

Toaster (1967) by Richard Hamilton. © The estate of Richard Hamilton

Toaster (1967) by Richard Hamilton. © The estate of Richard Hamilton

Hamilton worked as an apprentice draughtsman at an electrical components firm before becoming an artist and throughout his life he remained interested in the finish and allure of consumer products, even designing for a few different manufacturers. 

"Like a lot of people, he admired the sleek minimal design of Rams's products," the exhibition's curator, Mark Godfrey told phaidon.com. "In our catalogue, the design journalist Alice Rawsthorn looks at how Rams's goods once occupied a position now taken by Jonathan Ive's designs for Apple, so you can see why someone who knew something about design would take an interest in them. What's more interesting is Hamilton's decision to make artworks based on them."

 

Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) Still-life 1965 Museum Ludwig, Cologne / Donation Ludwig © The estate of Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) Still-life 1965 Museum Ludwig, Cologne / Donation Ludwig © The estate of Richard Hamilton

During a tour of the Tate show, Godfrey pointed out that Hamilton's studies of the Braun goods often reproduced the items' reflective surface, suggesting, perhaps, the consumer's desire to see themselves reflected in the goods they bought.

The curator goes on to explain that Hamilton eventually met Rams, and visited the Ulm School of Design, where Braun developed its uniform design.

Interestingly, the 1963 Braun HT2 single slit toaster that appears in many of Hamilton's works was actually designed by another Braun employee, Reinhold Weiss; nevertheless, Braun's attractive minimalism remains, both in the products themselves and in the artist's reinterpretation.

 

At the Tate show there's even a screen displaying The Critic Laughs, a great, one minute-long film the artist made in 1980 as a kind of a pastiche of a Braun advert. Proof that that Hamilton delighted in commerce, right down to the ad breaks.

For more on the Tate exhibition which opens tomorrow and runs until 26 May, go here. For greater insight into Hamilton's early work, consider our Pop books. For more on Dieter Rams, take a look at our monograph, which includes an introduction written by Jonathan Ive.


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