Artwork of the Week: The Original Pop Art Masterpiece

The Art: Just What is it That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing?

The Artist: Richard Hamilton

About the Work:

As the 1950s ebbed on, post-war society in the US and UK transitioned into a materialistic society. Consumption peaked, and advertisers turned to innovative, and often garish methods to ensure the brands they represented got the biggest slice of the consumer pie.

These years were the breeding grounds for pop art. Though the movement would hit full stride until Warhol unveiled Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, it was a 1956 piece by British collage artist Richard Hamilton that originally defined the style.

Just What is it That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing? is a collection of images that even now, 60 years later, remain icons of the era. This was Hamilton’s intention from the outset; when first starting on the project, he made a list of elements he planned to incorporate, believing them to be indicative of his theme: Man, Woman, Food, History, Newpapers, Cinema, Domestic Appliances, Cars, Space, Comics, TV, Telephone, Information.

Each element was sourced from a pile of magazines fellow artist John McHale had brought back from the US. Even the title comes from an ad for flooring.

Hamilton’s parody of a high-tech, interconnected, and sexualised future looks like a scene out of a sci-fi film and, indeed, he intended it as an allegory for the optimism with which society was framing their expectations of the 1960s.

But there is no malice in his criticism. Perhaps it was because Hamilton served during World War II, and was well aware of the harshness of life in wartime, but he seems to simply be depicting a new way of life rather than making a comment on the consequences this new life will have. It’s as if, even as he pokes fun of this materialistic future, he understands things could be a whole lot worse.

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