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Pop art: a blagger's guide

Pop art legend Richard Hamilton is the flavour of February with a retrospective at Tate Modern and a show at the ICA. Bit shaky on your art history? Here's what to say on your date at the Tate

Private Collection © Richard Hamilton
‘Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?’, 1956/1992
What to say Go in strong by ruminating – arty types love to both ruminate and pontificate – on how pop art was all about celebrity culture and raiding the worlds of advertising, news and shopping for imagery. You can link together the vacuum cleaner, furniture, electronics, bodybuilder and burlesque dancer because they’re all snipped out of glossy magazines. Then, just step back and stroke your chin.
What not to say ‘Pop art? What, like Lady Gaga?’ What to say ‘You know this isn’t the original image, right? It’s a 1992 copy because the first 1956 version is too fragile to leave its current home’ – saying that alone
is pretty good, but go for an art slam-dunk by mentioning the coolest name in art history, Marcel Duchamp. After befriending him in the ’60s, Hamilton went on to make copies of Duchamp pieces that were too fragile to travel.
What not to say ‘I could do this if you gave me some scissors and a couple of issues of Vogue.’ What to say When you think of pop art, chances are Americans like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein come to mind. But we Brits were the real pop pioneers, so point out that this collage pre-dates Warhol and his soup cans or Lichtenstein’s comic books. For bonus points, talk about poster maestro Eduardo Paolozzi (who mosaic-ed the hell out of Tottenham Court Road tube station) and John McHale, who coined the term ‘pop art’.
What not to say ‘Didn’t this used to be an Athena poster?’ What to say The late Hamilton loved food, and not just the tinned ham in this collage. Show your expertise by highlighting his long friendship with superstar chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. Then draw a clever parallel with his massively controversial 1982 portrait of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and say something like: ‘Food, or the lack of it, was some serious artistic fuel for Hamilton’s fire.’ Guaranteed art props!
What not to say ‘This would be better if it was scratch and sniff.’ What to say Show off your knowledge of Hamilton’s oeuvre (top-notch art word, there) by mentioning his portrayal of celebs, especially his big hit, ‘Swingeing London’ (1967-73), based on a photograph of Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser being arrested on drug charges. Wittily remark on Hamilton drawing parallels between the cultural currency of toasters and the toasted, then guffaw.
What not to say ‘Jagger got arrested on drug charges? More like “Rolling Stoned”, amiright?’

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