Tate Modern, London, until 26 May
Just what is it that makes Tate Modern's current retrospective exhibition of Richard Hamilton's work so different, so appealing? Of course this is a rather tongue in cheek reworking of the title of Hamilton's now iconic 1956 piece, "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" Hamilton was, I would argue, one of the most interesting, innovative and enjoyable artists working in Britain from the late 1940s until his death in September 2011.
To its credit, Tate Modern has, in this extensive retrospective, captured the full range of Hamilton's work, "for the first time presenting his paintings, prints and Polaroids alongside his exhibition designs and installations". It includes many of his most subversive and overtly political works like Portrait of Hugh Gaitskill as a Famous Monster of Filmland, Kent State, the citzen, Maps of Palestine, War Games and Unorthodox Rendition.
What can be observed here is Hamilton's emergence as a deeply thoughtful and intellectual artist. He continued to engage and develop his artistic language throughout his life in a constantly questioning dialogue with the world around him.
He always sought to employ new technologies as tools, and in many cases as subjects of his art. His artistic output across 60 years illustrates not just his commitment to his art but also his commitment to a more humane society. The exhibition is, if you like, a visual journey from hope to despair to defiance - an often funny, enjoyable and sometimes poignant journey.
Hamilton was born into a working class family in 1922. Like many young working class people whose family had suffered two wars Hamilton belongs to a generation who felt that the 1945 post-war settlement would lead to a better world - where everyone would have the right to free healthcare, access to a decent education, more leisure and enjoyment rather than a world of never ending work and suffering.
Hamilton was not a simple, wide eyed, gullible consumer of the modern world. Although he is rightly considered as one of the founders of "Pop Art", his understanding and questioning of modern consumer culture was always sensitive and contingent. As he put it himself, "an art of affirmatory intention is not-uncritical."
Hamilton demonstrates this in his photo-collages of the new models of the 1960s, rendering them "fetish-monsters, glamorous and grotesque in equal parts, constructed and deconstructed at once".
I could go on about our debt to him for reintroducing Marcel Duchamp to a new generation or his important role in preserving Kurt Schwitters's Merzbarn, but space will not permit. If you only get to one art show this month try to make it this one.