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1956
August

This is Tomorrow exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London

The exhibition This is Tomorrow opened at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in East London in August 1956, and featured twelve installations or 'environments', each created by the collaborative work of one painter, one sculptor and one architect. This groundbreaking show did not include film, but its approach to visual culture had implications for artists working in all types of media. Of particular importance in this context is the contribution of former members of the Independent Group, including the writers Lawrence Alloway and Reyner Banham, the artists Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson, and the architects Peter and Alison Smithson. During their meetings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in the early 1950s, this group of young practitioners and theorists within art, architecture, photography and anthropology had started to re-evaluate modernism's hierarchal approach to culture. In place of the division between 'high' and 'low' culture, IG members proposed a model where fashion, advertising and Hollywood film culture were of equal interest to sculpture, painting and literature, and they also challenged the notion that consumption of popular culture is inherently passive.

Much of the imagery in the This is Tomorrow environment created by Richard Hamilton, John McHale and John Voelcker was American in source; this reveals how New York had replaced Paris as the place young British artists looked to for inspiration. Richard Hamilton's famous colour collage entitled What is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, an image often used to illustrate the beginnings of British pop art, was in fact created as a poster for the exhibition and reproduced in black and white in the catalogue, but contrary to many accounts, the collage was never exhibited at the actual show.

Ingrid Stigsdotter

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Richard Hamilton's poster for the exhibition

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