Richard Hamilton
The Solomon R. Guggenheim (Neapolitan) 1965–6

Artwork details

Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
The Solomon R. Guggenheim (Neapolitan)
Date 1965–6
Medium Fibreglass and cellulose
Dimensions Object: 1219 x 1219 x 178 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1970
On display at Tate Britain
Room: 1960


This is one of six large reliefs the artist created in 1965-6 as part of his analysis of the structure of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Each relief is based on the same full-frontal view of the building, moulded in fibreglass and painted differently. Three versions are in the collection of the Museum itself: Black, Black and White and Spectrum, coloured as their subtitles suggest. The Gold model, covered in gold leaf, is in the collection of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark and the Metalflake relief is in a private collection. The title of the Neapolitan version reflects its combination of the three colours pink, cream and green which reminded the artist of the colours of Neapolitan ice cream (traditionally strawberry, vanilla and chocolate).

The inspiration to create a portrait of a building came from some coloured postcards of the Museum that Hamilton came across. Frank Lloyd White’s controversial new building completed in 1959, the year of its architect’s death, suggested a striking sculptural form on an architectural scale. The postcards, in tinted blues, pinks and buffs, had altered the character of the building sufficiently, and in a range of sufficiently different ways, to suggest its potential as the basis for a series of variable interpretations of its structure through the use of line and colour. When Hamilton began to think of the museum as a relief object, it became clear to him that he would need more information than was supplied by the postcard images. His friend and former collaborator at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts, Laurence Alloway (1926-90), had been working as a curator at the Guggenheim Museum since 1961 and was able to send the artist photographic and other related material. The reliefs were preceded by an architect’s visual, a study (both 1965, Museum of Modern Art, New York), two drawings (drawing I, whereabouts unknown; drawing II, 1965, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York) and the screenprint The Solomon R. Guggenheim, 1965 (P04252). Hamilton has explained:

Architect’s visual ... was an attempt to make a very dramatic rendering of the building conceiving it as ... any heroic architect might conceive the idea for his new building ... I was following ... the mode of creation of architecture by first of all getting the dramatic feel ... as though I was starting from scratch with this kind of concept and revisualising it ... [When] I began to work on ... the relief, I found it necessary ... to study ... the plans of Frank Lloyd Wright, because it’s a very difficult building to understand from the exterior ... I found myself trying to relate the plans to the kind of viewpoint I had taken ... Having a better understanding of the building I then began to make drawings which approached his problem at the technical level. I had to make plans ... elevations and sections of my own ... and then came the stage of construction, building it up with thick laminations, shaping down. So I was thinking of myself ... as covering the whole ground from visualisation of the building to the planning to construction and even later to photographing and publicising. It was an attempt to mirror the whole activity of architecture in the confines of a small panel ... four feet square.

(Quoted in Lullin, p.72.)

To make the relief model, Hamilton started with a square wooden panel, just over a metre square. Onto this he screwed and cemented each element of the façade, made from Weyroc (a kind of chipboard), before spraying the whole object with cellulose paint. He took several unsuccessful moulds from this object before achieving a cast that worked in fibreglass. After extensive refinement, this fibreglass body could be sprayed with the paint appropriate to its final state. Of all the colours, the Neapolitan version involved the most complex process. First Hamilton sprayed a relief with an even coat of white and then lit it carefully, from both sides, and took a colour photograph. He then sprayed the relief with a vanilla tint, forming the basic body colour, followed by a graduated layer of pink (strawberry) to simulate the tonal articulation of the lighting in the photograph. Finally, to complete the effect, he sprayed the recessed bands with pale green (or pistachio). The finished object is rich and glossy, showing the building’s elegant curves in dramatic receding bands and providing an exaggerated interpretation of the original structure. Using a title that refers to a fashionable ice cream, Hamilton suggests that the building has a similar status as a desirable consumer object. This is emphasised by the titles Gold, Spectrum, Metalflake – the latter two particularly fashionable in the mid 1960s. Like so many designer objects and ice creams, the relief portrait of the Guggenheim Museum is available in a range of attractive colours and flavours.

In 1970 Hamilton was invited to produce a run of 750 small-scale multiples of his Guggenheim relief by xartcollection, Zurich. The idea was to vacuum-form the reliefs in Perspex and offset the cost of expensive moulds by creating a large edition. In the event, the project was more technically difficult than anticipated and the edition, in three different colours – black, white and chrome – ran to a total of 271. A further twenty examples, not in the edition, were spray-painted by the artist in 1976.

Further reading:
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.72-3, 250-1 and 264.
Richard Hamilton: Retrospective: Paintings and drawings 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2003, pp.43-7.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.94-9 and 162-3, reproduced p.95 cat.38 in colour.
Gene Baro, ‘Hamilton’s Guggenheim’, Art and Artists, Vol.1, No.8, November 1966, pp.28-31, reproduced p.30.

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2007