Thursday, February 3, 2011

Edward Hopper at the Whitney

If the Whitney's admirable exhibition "Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time" doesn't do much to explicate its ambitious title, it still reminds us of Hopper's stature as a majestic and quintessential American painter. Originally assembled for and shown at the Bucerius Kunst Forum in Hamburg, Germany—a kunsthalle that invites foreign guest curators to develop exhibitions—and deftly organized by Whitney curators Barbara Haskell and Sasha Nicholas, the exhibition is a clever setup to remind us of the amazing wealth of the museum's holdings. In that sense, it's a not very subtle argument in favor of the Whitney's need for the expansive new Renzo Piano facilities currently being planned for the Meatpacking District.

[hopper2]Josephine N. Hopper Bequest/Whitney Museum of American Art
'Woman Walking' (1906)

The exhibition's argument—that Hopper (1882-1967) and his contemporaries were rebelling against late-19th-century academic art and aristocratic portraiture in favor of a more direct confrontation with the world around them—is self-evident and hardly new to anyone who has spent time looking at American art, as is the show's uneven attempt to trace the development of American realism from 1900 to 1940.
On the other hand, the exhibition is an opportunity to gain a sense of the Whitney's origins and the development of its collection: It reminds us of the commitment founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney had to American artists in a culture that still tended to believe that all serious artistic endeavors had to come from Europe. Ironically, Robert Henri's iconic 1916 portrait of Whitney demonstrates the difficulty of severing connections with traditional concepts; the elegant young woman in a provocative Venus-like pose wears a very modern casual shirt over pants, but we're never fooled into believing that this is anything other than an updated version of a Giovanni Boldini or John Singer Sargent society portrait.
Continued here........

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