A Little Hopper for Your Weekend
Written by Bwog Staff
Because images of windswept prairies and lonley gas-stations make for the best modern art, Bwog correspondent Maryam Parhizkar tells us what to expect from the Whitney exhibit Holiday in Reality-Edward Hopper.
Last week, I headed to the Whitney for the Edward Hopper show. The exhibition, which takes up the entire fifth floor, is part of the Whitney’s 75th anniversary showcase. It covers not only Hopper’s well-known paintings and their preliminary sketches, but also a wide survey of his work, from his early professional illustrations to his detailed etchings.
In a way, Hopper defines the Whitney, which has long struggled with its somewhat ambiguous role as a museum for American art. The strong connection between Hopper and the museum dates back to 1920, when Hopper gave his first exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club (the museum’s predecessor) long before he became a well-known artist. Throughout his life, Hopper continued to take part in several of the Whitney’s annual and biennial exhibitions, and showcased collections there several times throughout his career. As a result of the connection, Hopper’s wife Josephine Nevinson bequeathed the artist’s entire estate to the museum after her death in 1968.
As a part of the Ashcan School, Hopper aimed to present his subject matter in a more realistic fashion than that of his abstract contemporaries. After finishing art school, he traveled to France three times, where he found the latest abstract trends unimpressive. Accordingly, his French landscapes, which appear in the exhibition, are rebelliously impressionistic. Also on display are several ink/watercolor subject studies from his later French excursions and Hopper’s largest painting, Soir Bleu (1914), done a few years after his travels, which is one of the earliest paintings to showcase the detachment that informed much of Hopper’s later work.
Hopper’s illustrations are also worth noting. After his move back to New York City, he earned his living making prints and paintings for various businesses. While he despised this job, he nevertheless was a strong illustrator, and many pieces offer an interesting glimpse into Hopper’s obscure commercial art career. Many of his sketches are also shown with their respective paintings. For instance, New York Movie (1939), the classic painting of a pensive female usher in a dark theater, is on display with over 50 preparatory sketches that show how much consideration Hopper put into the work.
One piece that really caught my attention was one of Hopper’s later works, Second Story Sunlight (1960), which perfectly captures what draws people to his artwork. At first glance it seems to be a simple picture of two women, one young and one old, on the balcony of a house. However, the two female figures in the painting are actually both Josephine Nevison, Hopper’s wife. After a closer look, one notices that there is no door to the balcony, meaning the only way that the subjects could have possibly gotten outside is through one of the darkened balcony windows. Even more illogical is the sunlit window on the far left of the painting, which seems to be coming from the same room as the first two, while the sunlight is at the same time beaming down from a different angle. Hopper intentionally put in contradictory details like these in several of his later paintings, creating an surreal psychological portrait that belies his famous “realism.”
Overall, Holiday in Reality is a comprehensive sampling of Hopper’s artistic career, and is a must-see for any aficionado of American art. After the recent addition of Nighthawks (1942) to the show, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, it is bound to attract even more audiences to experience the nostalgic aesthetic of Hopper’s work. Hopper’s greatest success at conveying the nostalgia and speculation of everyday life into art, it’s hard not to leave the exhibit without feeling just a little introspective.
Go See It
WHEN: Now until December 3, 2006
WHERE: Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue at 75th St.
HOW MUCH: Free with CUID