Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jill Krementz covers Edward Hopper at the Whitney

Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1925–30
Oil on canvas
If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.
  — Edward Hopper
Modern Life: Edward Hopper And His Time
Whitney Museum of American Art
October 28, 2010 to April 10, 2011

At the turn of the 20th century, American artists rebelled against the predominating academic art and aristocratic portraiture and began looking to modern life, both city and urban for their subject matter. Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was one of the central figures of this dramatic shift. So were many other artists including Guy Pène du Bois, George Bellows, Charles Burchfield, Thomas Hart Benton, Everett Shinn, Paul Cadmus, Raphael Soyer, and Reginald Marsh. Photographers depicting daily life included Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and Alfred Steiglitz.

This show, organized by Whitney curator Barbara Haskell and senior curatorial assistant Sasha Nicholas, traces the development of realism in American art beginning in 1900, the year that Hopper arrived on New York's art scene.

The Whitney has been presenting the work of Edward Hopper throughout the institution's history. But this is the first exhibit to focus specifically on the context in which the artist worked.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who was the only wealthy art patron at the time to stake her reputation and her fortune on the work of the Ashcan school artists and their successors. It was Ms. Whitney's advocacy and vision that led to the founding of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930 and to the formation of the collection on view.
This collaboration between photographer Paul Strand and painter/photographer Charles Sheeler is considered by many to be the first avant-garde film produced in the United States. Comprising sixty-five shots sequenced in a loose narrative, the film presents a day in the life of New York. Camera movement is kept to a minimum, making us acutely aware that each frame is as much a carefully composed composition as it is a moving image. Interspersed among the frames are excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poems, including Mannahatta (1868), from which the film’s title is derived. Sheeler and Strand’s choice of such romantic lines to accompany their images indicates an idealistic embrace of modernity’s possibilities.
The original negative of the film was lost and only one 35mm print is known to have survived. Due to difficulties encountered during production and improper handling over the years, that print contains technical imperfections. The edition of the film shown here was meticulously restored using new digital technology, while staying as true as possible to the aesthetic of the original film.
Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) and Paul Strand (1890–1976)
Manhattan, 1921 (digitally restored 2006–09)
35mm film (digitally restored in 2K DPX)
transferred to DVD, black-and-white,
silent; 10:12 min.
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Tugboat with Black Smokestack, 1908
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Queensborough Bridge, 1913
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
American Village, 1912
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Untitled (Woman Walking), 1906
Oil on wood
Curator Barbara Haskell who, with the help of Sasha Nicholas, organized the exhibition. On the wall behind her:

Robert Henri (1865–1929)
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916
Oil on canvas

In 1916, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a patron of contemporary American art and professional
sculptor, commissioned this portrait from Robert Henri. Not only did she collect the work of emerging young artists, but she also founded the Whitney Studio Club in Greenwich Village, a precursor of the Museum, which became a vital center for the support and exhibition of new American art.

In this painting, Henri transforms the traditional genre of a reclining female into a portrait of the quintessential “modern” woman. After the portrait was completed, Mrs. Whitney’s husband, Harry Payne Whitney, refused to allow her to hang it in their opulent Fifth Avenue home. He did not want his friends to see a picture of his wife, as he put it, “in pants.” Mrs. Whitney subsequently hung it in her Greenwich Village studio, which became the first home of the Whitney Museum in 1931.
Sasha Nicholas, senior curatorial assistant, who worked with Whitney curator Barbara Haskell organizing this exhibition.
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Soir Bleu, 1914
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Barber Shop, 1931
Oil on canvas
William Glackens was one of the Philadelphia illustrators who left journalism and joined Robert Henri's group, the Eight. Hammerstein’s Roof Garden depicts an evening at a fashionable
New York nightspot—a roof garden, a place for open-air entertainment when stifling summer heat forced indoor theaters to close.

Opened by impresario Oscar Hammerstein, the Palace Roof Garden presented vaudeville acts that varied from exotic Spanish dancers to cycling jugglers and tightrope walkers. Only at the turn of the century did amusements of this sort become acceptable places for respectable women. The electric lights illuminating the arena were a recent invention that had made nighttime theater possible.
William J. Glackens (1870–1938)
Hammerstein’s Roof Garden, c. 1901
Oil on canvas
Everett Shinn (1876-1953)
Revue, 1908
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Le Bistro or The Wine Shop, 1909
Oil on canvas

Because Hopper’s vision of modern life is often perceived as distinctly American, it is less well known that the artist’s first independent body of work was inspired by three trips to Paris between 1906 and 1910. Unlike other Americans who journeyed to Paris in the early twentieth century, Hopper ignored the innovations of the city’s most avant-garde artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He was more interested in an earlier generation of French artists: the Impressionists and Edgar Degas. With its bleached sunlight, geometric underpinnings, and cafe subject matter, this painting reflects these sources while also anticipating Hopper’s later work, in which even seemingly banal vignettes are imbued with an understated dramatic force.
John Sloan (1871–1951)
Backyards, Greenwich Village, 1914
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
New York Interior, c. 1921
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Evening Wind, 1921
Etching on paper

Sloan’s prints were a source of inspiration to Hopper, who developed a friendship with the older artist after taking his course at the New York School of Art in 1906. Sloan’s training as a newspaper illustrator, Hopper wrote, had given him “a facility and a power of invention that the pure painter seldom achieves.” The sense of voyeuristic reportage that was a hallmark of Sloan’s prints is echoed in Hopper’s etchings, which he produced from 1915 to 1923.
John Sloan (1871–1951)
Turning out the Light, 1905
Etching on paper
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Night Shadows, 1921
Etching on paper
Martin Lewis (1881–1962)
Shadow Dance, 1930
Drypoint with sandpaper ground

Australian-born Martin Lewis, one of the great printmakers of the early twentieth century, became famous for his etchings of life in New York. When Hopper began making prints in 1915, Lewis advised him on the technique of etching. In the 1920s, they took drawing classes together at the Whitney Studio Club, the precursor to the Whitney Museum. The two artists shared an interest in capturing the dramatic light effects of the city at night.
Gaston Lachaise (1882–1935)
Standing Woman, 1912–27

Born in Paris and trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Gaston Lachaise came to America in 1906. Rejecting the prevailing fashion for sculpture with classical or literary allusions, Lachaise celebrated simple, earthy physicality and the sensuality of natural forms. The artist’s mistress (who later became his wife), Isabel Dutaud Nagle, served as the original Model and inspiration for this and many of his other sculptures. Lachaise called her “the Goddess I am searching for in all things.”
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Night Windows, 1928
Oil on canvas
Guy Pène du Bois (1884–1958)
Woman with Cigarette, 1929
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Untitled (In a Restaurant), c. 1916–25
Charcoal on paper
George Bellows (1882–1925)
Dempsey and Firpo, 1924
Oil on canvas

George Bellows, a student of Robert Henri, supplemented his income as a painter by working as a sports illustrator for daily newspapers. The events he covered often found their way into his art. This work captures a pivotal moment in the September 14, 1923, prizefight between American heavyweight
champion Jack Dempsey and his Argentine rival Luis Angel Firpo. Although Dempsey was the eventual victor, the artist chose to represent the dramatic moment when Firpo knocked his opponent out of the ring with a tremendous blow to the jaw. Bellows portrays himself in the scene as the balding man at the far left.
Guy Pène du Bois’s powerful businessmen and chic flappers capture the glamour and disquiet of New York society in the 1920s. In this work, the statuesque woman looking down from an upper tier of the house seems lost in thought, isolated from the opera audience surrounding her. Like other 1920s realists, such as George Bellows, Pène du Bois treats the human figure as monumental, volumetric, and stylized.

Pène du Bois and Edward Hopper were lifelong friends. Both studied under Robert Henri and shared an interest in depicting narratives of inaction and themes of emotional estrangement—though Hopper shared little of Pène du Bois’s fascination with high-society elegance. Pène du Bois was an early champion of Hopper’s work and helped organize his friend’s first solo exhibition, which took place at the Whitney Studio Club in 1920 (Pène du Bois had made his own solo debut there in 1918).
Guy Pène du Bois (1884–1958)
Opera Box, 1926
Oil on canvas
John Storrs (1885-1956)
Forms in Space #1, c. 1924
50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Friedman in honor of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Flora Whitney Miller, and Flora Miller Biddle
Stuart Davis (1894-1964)
New England Street, c. 1929
Opaque and transparent watercolor, pen and ink, wax crayon and graphite on paper
Louis Lozowick (1892-1973)
New York, 1923
Carbon pencil on paper
Edward Hopper (1882–Earle Horter (1881–1940)
The Chrysler Building Under
Pen, ink, transparent and opaque
watercolor, and graphite on paper
Purchase with funds from
Mrs. William A. Marsteller )
Untitled (In a Restaurant), c. 1916–25
Charcoal on paper
Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
Buildings, Lancaster, 1930
Oil and graphite on fiberboard
George C. Ault (1891–1948)
Hudson Street, 1932
Oil on canvas
Ralston Crawford (1906-1978)
Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa., (1936-37)
Oil on canvas
Charles Sheeler (1883–1965)
River Rouge Plant, 1932
Oil on canvas

In 1927, Charles Sheeler was hired by an advertising agency to photograph the Ford Motor Company’s new River Rouge plant—the first plant to manufacture cars from start to finish on site—near Dearborn, Michigan. It was the flagship of the company and the focus of a massive advertising campaign for the new Model A Ford. Sheeler produced thirty-two photographs on assignment and returned to them several years later as a basis for paintings,
drawings, and prints. For Sheeler, the plant’s grandeur surpassed mankind—it was a monument to American industry and the modern equivalent of the cathedral, “our substitute,” he said, “for religious experience.”
Charles Demuth (1883–1935)
My Egypt, 1927
Oil and graphite on fiberboard

In 1927, Charles Demuth began a series of oils depicting industrial sites in his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This work portrays the concrete grain elevator of the John W. Eshelman Feed Company that was constructed in 1919. The majestic structure rises up as the pinnacle of American achievement—a modern day equivalent to the monuments of ancient Egypt. A series of intersecting diagonal planes add geometric dynamism and a heavenly radiance to the composition, invoking the correlations between industry and religion that were widespread in the 1920s.
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
House on Pamet River, 1934
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Untitled (Street Corner), 1923–24
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Charles Burchfield (1893–1967)
Ice Glare, 1933
Watercolor, charcoal, and graphite on paper

Charles Burchfield spent most of his artistic career focusing on the landscape and architecture around his home in Gardenville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. Burchfield and Hopper became close during the 1930s, when both were represented by Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York. Hopper wrote eloquently about his younger colleague’s work. “From what is to the mediocre artist and unseeing layman the boredom of everyday existence in a provincial community,” Hopper observed, Burchfield “has extracted a quality that we may call poetic, romantic, lyric, or what you will. By sympathy with the particular he has made it epic and universal.”
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Railroad Crossing, 1922–23
Oil on canvas
Charles Burchfield (1893–1967)
Winter Twilight, 1930
Oil on composition board
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Seven A.M., 1948
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Gas, 1940
Oil on canvas

Although Hopper was no longer painting directly from life by 1940, he continued to rely on real places and experiences as springboards for his compositions. Meticulous about the subtleties of light, he often returned to the same place at the same time of day to record its specific qualities. Before beginning this painting, he drove around the Cape Cod town of Truro for several evenings in search of a scene that corresponded to the vision he had in his mind of a filling station at dusk with lights illuminating the pumps. Gas was Hopper’s entry in the Whitney’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting in the fall of 1940.
Details from Gas, 1940.
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Railroad Sunset, 1929
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
South Carolina Morning, 1955
Oil on canvas
Paul Cadmus (1904–1999)
Sailors and Floosies, 1938
Oil and tempera on panel
Raphael Soyer (1899–1987)
Office Girls, 1936
Oil on canvas
Walt Kuhn (1877–1949)
Clown in His Dressing Room, 1943
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1903–06
Oil on canvas
Edward Hopper sketching in Paris, 1907.
Frances Mulhall Achilles Library, Whitney Museum of American Art. (This study print was made in 2005 from an original in the Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust.)
Edward and Josephine Hopper, n.d.
Daryl Chin and Larry Qualls. Mr. Chin is a writer who covers art, film, and performance. His partner, Mr. Qualls, has been writing knowledgeably about art for decades.

Mr. Qualls had this to say:

"What was disturbing to me and to Daryl at the Hopper press preview was when curator Barbara Haskell responded to a query about why Josephine Hopper's paintings were not included with the statement that they were not very good. Yes, but the show was purportedly about Hopper and his circle, and she was definitely part of that. Why were we not allowed to see for ourselves and make our own judgments?

Certainly if the Whitney can show the paintings of Paul Thek, which were 'not very good,' then we should be able to make our own assessment of the Jo Hopper works. Thek was certainly associated with figures in the so-called "bad painting" movement, particularly his assistant Neil Jenney, and yet these people, with antecedents back to Picabia and late Guston are widely praised and collected. Is it just that standards apply to women, particularly of earlier generations, not to men who proclaim their assault on the rules of figurative imagery."
Mr. Qualls continued:

"Just some thoughts. I did like seeing the Hoppers again, particularly the Newark theatre piece, and this show is a great fund raiser, as we all know. But it could have allowed us to see someone in Hopper's life in another light. And, as for Anderson Cooper's aunt, well, that was a fabulous circle she created, and the Henri caught her in that languorous pose in a deco oval that was enchanting. And, yes, Cooper should be on the board of the museum. That would make a perfect circle of a different sort."
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
The Sheridan Theatre, 1937
Oil on canvas
The Newark Museum; purchase 1940
Miri Ben-Shalom, who covers culture for "All About Jewish Theater."
Carlo McCormick, Senior editor of Paper Magazine. Mr. McCormick also writes op-eds for The Christian Science Monitor and is a contributor to The Boston College Journal of Religion and the Arts. He has a new book out called Trespass, published by Taschen. Emily Hume, who reports for AM New York, interviews Sasha Nicholas, senior curatorial assistant.
Hollywood cinematographer Edward Lachman, with Nicole Cosgrove. Ms. Cosgrove curated the film video exhibition adjacent to the Hopper Gallery, which features Mr. Lachman's film.

A visit with the curators in their offices
Barbara Haskell in her office.
Sasha Nicholas in her office cubicle. You can see Hopper books on the top shelf. Sasha's goldfish, Giles.
Sasha Nicholas and Barbara Haskell, who collaborated on and organized the Whitney show.

In the foreground, the poster board, on which tiny thumbnails of the pictures are taped in chronological order.
Closeup of "thumbnails" used on foam board when designing the exhibition.

On sale in the lobby of the Whitney
Catalogue for show on sale behind counter on Whitney's ground floor, just opposite the entrance.
A book of postcards.
Edward Hopper address book.
Boxed notecards.
Edward Hopper Light and Dark, by Garry Souter.
Inside Souter's book ...
Edward Hopper's New York, by Avis Berman.
Ariel Rivera, Irving Caraballo, and Stephanie Birmingham.

There was a private viewing and reception for invited guests
Lynn Nicholas, proud mother, with Sasha Nicholas. Donna DeSalvo and Adam Weinberg. Ms. DeSalvo is the Whitney's Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs; Mr. Weinberg is the Director of the Whitney.
Larissa Buchholz, former model who is presently getting her doctorate at Columbia in Sociology of art and culture. Ms. Buchholz is from Germany Haans Nicholas Mott, clothing designer.
Lisa Phillips, head of The New Museum of Contemporary Art in the Bowery. Ms. Phillips used to work at the Whitney. "I know every stone of this museum by heart. It's always fun coming back, especially because most of the guards are still here and I love seeing them." Leily Soleimani, who used to work at the Whitney and now does public relations for various arts programs. She is currently promoting a family-friendly event to be held on Saturday, November 13th at Salon 94, 1 Freeman Alley, where Little Collector artists will reveal their process to kids. Artists Takehiko and Yuki Yasue from Moon and Snow will be previewing a specially-commissioned animation work.
Christo. Graham Newhall and Steven Soba. Mr. Newall is the Whitney's Assistant Communications Officer. Mr. Soba is Chief Communications Officer.
Alexia Schapira, Jennifer O'Neil, and Lisa Weinert. Ms. Schapira is an immigration lawyer. Ms. Weinert is the Digital Marketing Manager at Open Road.
Roxana Marcoci and her husband, Cristian Alexa. Ms. Marcoci is a Curator of Moma's Department of Photography. Mr. Alexa is an artist. Julia Gruen, Executive Director of The Keith Haring Foundation. The next major traveling museum show of
Keith Haring's work will open in February at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.
Sasha Nicholas with her husband, Steven Caputo. Mr. Caputo is a Policy Advisor in the Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. Ashleigh Fernandez, Sasha's room-mate from college. Ms. Fernandez now works for Goldman Sachs.
Hanne Lauridsen, an artist from Denmark.
"I dress like I do my art. I don't know what I'm going to wear until I go out the door. And I don't know what I'm going to put on the canvas until I start painting."
Robert Rothenberg, who heads Rothenberg Public Relations.
Megan Garwood, who bought her Catherine Malandrino designer dress for $50 at a thrift shop. Ms. Garwood writes art criticism for M Magazine. Nicole Cosgrove.
Artist Gary Kuehn. Suzanne McConnell, who teaches fiction writing at Hunter College. Ms. McConnell is married to Gary Kuehn.
Annette Insdorf, Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University. Sally Fischer, who heads Sally Fischer Public Relations.
Shirley Scott, Phyllis Thorpe, and Robert Babatundel. Ms. Scott is retired, Ms. Thorpe manages the Whitney's gift shop on the lower level, and Mr. Babatundel worked for the United Nations for many years doing consulting work for different African countries.
Angel Faller, former model who is now studying to be a vetinarian. Diane Exavier, who works in the education department at the Whitney, with her boyfriend, Will Denatale.
Nicole Cosgrove hails a cab. She and her colleagues were all headed downtown for an after-party at Kenmare.
For Kurt on his birthday, 11/11. Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz
all rights reserved.