Saturday, February 5, 2011

Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time

Every Friday evening, the Whitney Museum of Art offers pay-what-you-wish admission. What better time to visit the museum's Edward Hopper exhibit, on display through April 10, 2011?! 

If you want to see Hopper's Nighthawks, you'll have to travel to the Art Institute of Chicago (a trip I highly recommend taking). However, if what you seek is a good dose of American Realism, as shown through the paintings of Hopper and other realists of the early to mid 1900s, including George Bellows and John Sloan, then head over to the second floor of the Whitney to view Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time. (Fun fact: Many Hopper pieces have come to the Whitney through a friendship between Mrs. Hopper (Edward Hopper's wife) and Mrs. Whitney (guess who that is), the latter of the women purchasing certain pieces after Hopper's death in 1967). 

In the four or so rooms that make up this exhibit, you'll find at least two self-portraits by Hopper, including the one posted here (after taking this photograph I was unfortunately told photography was prohibited, and I was unable to snap anything else, even though I tried to do so discreetly), but the main draws are Hopper's paintings and etchings that show scenes across America's towns and cities, including a village street, a city block, bridges, barns and homes, apartments you can peer into, a gas station, railroad crossings, and more. Some of these scenes were from landscapes Hopper himself observed and chose to paint. In many of his works, you can even detect a hint of impressionism. However, you won't see anything resembling abstract expressionism, as a tour guide informed us that Hopper detested painting anything abstract (I was also surprised to learn, from the same tour guide, that Hopper was a staunch Republican, anti-New Deal, and voted against FDR...). Hopper preferred to give life to figures (usually female), depict shops either on an empty street or on a street full of people going about their daily business, never aware that they are being spied upon by observers standing outside the picture frames. There is also a very noticeable use of blues throughout his works, as many of his paintings are outdoor scenes. 

One very beautiful work is Soir Bleu, one of Hopper's largest paintings and also, as the guide explained, one with more fully-visible figures than nearly any of his other works, I believe I counted seven. This painting evokes a Parisian theme and we were told that "Soir Bleu" refers to that time between dusk and twilight when "anything's possible," and not necessarily to the literal translation of "Blue Evening." Also intriguing are two famous Hopper pieces, New York Interior, showing the back of a woman who you know is beautiful, even though you can't see her face, sitting in a classic New York home, and Early Sunday Morning, which shows a row of shops with illegible names painted on, so that the only one which is actually recognizable is a store that has a red and white barber pole outside. I wonder if Hopper was trying to say something about the uniformity and repetitiveness of life with Early Sunday Morning... 

As you pass by these and other works, make sure to also stop at George Bellows' famous Dempsey and Firpo, painted in 1924 and depicting a scene between the aforementioned boxers, from a September 14, 1923 fight, when Firpo was knocked out of the ring, even though Dempsey was the night's eventual victor. Look closely and, according to the Whitney's description card, you'll see that Bellows painted himself in-- he's the bald guy on the left. 

The Whitney Museum is located at 975 Madison Avenue, at the corner of E. 75th Street. 

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