Friday, January 14, 2011

Edward Hopper: Modern Life/ The Whitney Museum of Art, October 28 - April 10

Edward Hopper's art does not come from my favorite art movement (abstract expressionism), but I have always had a large response to Hopper's work. Hopper is considered a realist painter. Realism is one of my favorite movements of literature (Zola, Flaubert, Balzac, etc). And, I love films based in realism (Mike Leigh). Walking through the exhibit at the Whitney, I was struck by my inability to ever really think through the art of the realist painters. Having never spent any time working my way through a realist art catalogue, I was pleased to see the Hopper exhibit was filled with Hopper's art and other pieces of realist paintings to have inspired or been inspired by Hopper.

I was lucky enough to walk through the Whitney on a day one of the guides was giving a free tour/lecture of the Hopper exhibit. I am usually quick to dismiss the tour guides at art museums. They are typically filled with very bland details of an artist's life and are never too giving on the methods of the painter or the history of the piece. On a rare chance, I found myself in the gallery with a tour guide willing to share interesting information. I did not spend my entire time listening or following the guide and her group. Instead, I stepped into the lecture from time to time just to make sure I was on the same page. And, to learn something new.

The gallery begins with a self portrait of Hopper as a young man. The exhibit end with a self portrait of Hopper as an older man. I think this is an incredible way to bookend an exhibit. Art is so much the expression of the artist. To have the opportunity to see the way an artist viewed themselves is always an incredible experience. It allows one to understand the way the artist viewed the world, too. If the artist transforms themselves into something unrecognizable, clearly their view of the world may be a little off. In the case of Hopper, it was almost a photograph. Promising the viewer the paintings still to come were going to contain some very personal moments filled with life.

One of my favorite paintings, the above piece (New York Interior) is delightful in it's humor and sadness. The humor comes from the way Hopper is playing with the images of Degas' paintings. The use of dancers in Degas' paintings are always so welcoming. Degas considered himself a realist painter, but was considered an Impressionist painter. Their certainly are many elements of realism to Degas' works. Hopper has used these elements to his own benefit in this painting. The audience is not allowed in this time around. We are no longer invited into the dancers world. This is something Hopper loves to portray in his paintings. Hopper's work is very distant, while at the same time feeling very familiar.

What has now turned into my favorite Hopper painting, Soir Blue (above image) was the highlight of the exhibit. The moment I walked into the painting I was overwhelmed by the sense of story taking place. There is such a dialogue in this painting. And how amazing that our most silent form of art can be so overwhelmingly loud. The painting is a mix of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. There is a lot of humor and sadness in this painting (as with most of Hopper's work). I stared into this painting and wondered how it had not inspired a film, or a novel, or a play, or a short story collection. (Of course, this is my next project... hopefully).

The work of Hopper is intense. We are treated to nude women with longing glances out windows, off of porches, and into a world we can't quite see. But, that we are very much a part of. We are shown homes living in shadow and light. Dancers in a private ritual we are not fully welcome to experience. Hopper's a master at the mystery of the everyday. The ability to turn the most mundane, routine moment into a philosophical examination of our meaning and purpose.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting. I like the Edward Hopper Soir Bleu painting too - I'm glad you omitted 'Nighthawks' which is depressing. Another blog had a quote on Hopper's paintings as 'calm, prosaic, but quietly desperate'. Soir Bleu certainly fits that description, yet I fail to see what it is that makes this so accurate. Sadly I'm not in NY so a trip to the Whitney is not going to happen for me!