Richard Hamilton, The Treatment Room, (1983-1984)

Today’s sad news has prompted me to share an artwork-related anecdote. At Richard Hamilton’s Serpentine show in 2010 the central piece was a stark, cell-like hospital room.

Next to the sort of bed patients get strapped down to was a stainless steel sink and if memory serves a bucket. Behind a glass shield to one side was a control panel (!). Over the bed was a TV monitor.

Here could be seen former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, giving a speech with chilling conviction. It was hard to think of an environment with more menace.

But art show launches attract all sorts. While looking at this disturbing work I became aware of a Barbour jacket type who was accompanied by a smaller, much older man.

The former was providing a commentary for that latter and, also for some reason, for a portable voice recorder which he held.

“This is a very optimistic work” I heard him say, or words to that effect. “You see the patient must have got better and got out of bed and walked off.”

Anyone else might have said the patient had met a sticky end. Or would they?

I’ve never come across a better or worse example of the subjectivity of art and I wonder what else this chap went on to say about the other works in the show.

Because the meaning of later works by Hamilton, about say Israel or Iraq, was becoming even more explicit. Perhaps I saw for myself just why. Or perhaps that was a one off.

Anyway, RIP Richard Hamilton, a man responsible for of some of the 20th century’s most resonant works of art. I hope we can remember whatever we think he was getting at.

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