Pioneers of POP I Hatton gallery

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Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne

When the Hatton Gallery closed for a major facelift in February 2016, it left a considerable hole in Newcastle’s cultural landscape. Away from the boundless energy of student and graduate shows around campus, the Hatton felt like an oasis of calm. Okay, so the galleries were a little dated, with cracked walls and an odd disused balcony, but they had charm and character matched by a programme of top-notch exhibitions and a world class collection.

That fantastic collection forms the nucleus of ‘Pioneers of Pop’, the first exhibition after the £3.8million refurbishment. The show delves into Newcastle’s role in the development of Pop Art during the 1950s and 60s, when Richard Hamilton and Victor Pasmore were both tutors at the University. Together they developed a radical new type of artistic training, the ‘Basic Design’ course, which encouraged students to use different techniques and materials to explore the fundamental principals of line, space, form and colour. By the late 60s, this method of teaching would underpin almost all art education in Britain.

It was while he taught in Newcastle that Hamilton created ‘Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing’, the iconic collage celebrated as one of the most influential images in post-war British art, which predated Andy Warhol’s first forays into Pop. A 2004 limited edition print of the collage is included in the show, a nod to the consumerist side of Pop if there ever was one.

Also included are a delicately drawn portrait of Hamilton by David Hockney, a mesmerising speckled canvas by Ian Stephenson, and series of vivid yet simple assemblies by Joe Tilson. The exhibition brings together over 100 works from public and private collections around the country. Many pieces have rarely been exhibited in public before, making the exhibition one not to be missed.

And as far as the gallery itself goes, the renovation is perfect. Each of the spaces have retained their intimate feel and period features, with only a couple of walls moved to create a new shop and education space. The fish-scaled domed ceiling in the first gallery is simply beautiful with a fresh coat of paint, almost worthy of a visit on its own. Many people have eagerly awaited the Hatton reopening, and I’ll bet none of them will be disappointed.

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