Monday, July 9, 2007

Another Way of Looking at Hopper

The retrospective of Edward Hopper's work is on display at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for just a few more weeks. Karen and I attended this past weekend on library passes, which put us on stand-by. But we are know-it-all locals, so we swept right in with the rest of the first tour group.

I am reluctant to tell you our secret parking spots, but let's just say that 2 Simmons girls know their way around the museum properties. So you figure it out. The MFA opens at 10am on a Sunday. If you can beat that timeline you have your pick of free parking.

If you have no chance of getting to Boston before the August 19th closing, the website above will be a very near experience with a few exceptions. I am afraid you will not enjoy the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, the crying babies, and the thrill of security guards taking down photographers.

In the Explore section, you can also hear some of the audio tour thaty accompanied the pictures (the art insiders like to say 'picture,' like songwriters say 'lyric.') and give a background of the scene.

I called this essay "another way of looking at Hopper" because I was frustrated by the one-sided discussion in gallery notes and audio comment that focused on the isolation, solitude, etc that many viewers find distressing and ominous in Hopper paintings. Hopper himself said he just wanted to paint light on the side of a house.

In the commentary on Nighthawks, curators interviewed Wim Wenders, who made the whole scene sound like an inevitable bloodbath was about to occur. "How German are YOU?" I said aloud, headphones on my ears, and moved along.

When I was a child, I learned everything I knew about art from the Masterpiece game. Nighthawks was one of the paintings I loved. I was known to collect modern realist works and some Renaissance, while Dodie was Dutch Masters and the occasional impressionism if it didn't, quote, make her want to smack the artist.

It was years, of course, before I saw Nighthawks any larger than the 3x5 card that came with the game. In the minature, I had found it glamorous. I imagined the woman as beautiful, and the man as her date. I thought she was applying lipstick, which was exotic to me, and now that I have seen it full-sive, I still can't tell you what she is holding. Wim Wenders told me the scene was ominous, the evening dank, the mood forboding. I told Dodie to smack him.

Sister Wendy, who I do not wish to smack, but to remind that she too lives a cloistered life, writes, "When we look at that dark New York street, we would expect the fluorescent-lit cafe to be welcoming, but it is not. There is no way to enter it, no door. The extreme brightness means that the people inside are held, exposed and vulnerable. They hunch their shoulders defensively."
wow. relax.
City dwellers know that cafe counters, bars, and bookshops are the living rooms of the neighborhood. Maybe they come there for companionship, to get the latest news. Bachelors often eat there every night. It's what "regulars" are. They are wearing gray suits and fedoras because it is 1942, not because they are gangsters.

I am aware of the equally critical view that "Cheers," where everybody knew our names, was a depressing band of alcoholic losers without ambitions. That may be true. But we loved that show.

So I offer another way of looking at Hopper, using some of my faves from the exhibit. Let's hope these links work. They will launch with a view-scale bar. I recommend 75-100% for the best perspective.

We learned that Hopper painted this inside his car to capture the true light from all its sources.
The light through the hedge is a gate welcoming the visitor, who is far from home and in need of rest. A piano in the front window suggests a social atmosphere awaits. The light is on for you. Motel 8, 40's style.

The usherette takes a break in her shift for a moment alone to rest her feet. She leans thoughtfully against the wall, perhaps considering what she will do when she gets off of work. A private moment in a loud crowded city.

Much is made of Hotel Room: the woman's posture, her dropped bags, her contemplation of the timetables. She may well be leaving town, as most critics suggest, but she may also be arriving. Why doesn't anyone write that she has moved to New York for a new job, or she is off to her wedding, or she just got out of prison? So she's do too when you sit on your bed.

This is one of my favorites, because I am an early riser as well, and a city block on a Sunday morning is one of the most private moments the urbanite ever gets. And this is exactly what it looks and sounds like.

An exhibit full of women sitting alone in front of windows, and houses without residents, and lighthouses over barren bluffs did not make me want to hurl myself out/off of same.
Intellectually, I do believe Hopper just liked slanted light. But even if I went to a sociological lens through which to view Hopper, I'd say the man knew that sometimes a girl just wants 5 minutes alone to think her own thoughts.

How you read Hopper, I think, says more about you than about him.

1 comment:

  1. Thank God someone else feels this way! I should have known, Lady. I totally agree about Nighthawks and was completely annoyed by most of the guided tour, especially the bit about how "we've ALL seen Hitchcock's 'Rear Window,' and this is obviously ALL we can think about when viewing this painting. Speak for yourself!


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