A full slate today! Biking to mass before heading to NYC to leave the Brompton at NYCeWheels for a tune-up. Then it’s off to the Whitney Museum of American Art for the Hopper Drawing exhibition before Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes at the MoMA.
Trip Summary – Part 1
Le Corbusier will have to wait. The Hopper exhibit has so much content that you need a half-day or more (not exaggerating – had lunch at Untitled before returning to the exhibit). I dropped ‘drawing’ from my sentence because it’s a misnomer since the exhibit includes the final masterpieces; New York Movie (1939), Nighthawks, (1942), Stairway (1949), Early Sunday Morning (1930), Office at Night (1940), Conference at Night (1949), Gas (1940), Route 6, Eastham (1941), Rooms for Tourists (1945), and Mass of Trees at Eastham (1962).
The exhibit didn’t include Approaching a City (1946) but did include one of his studies for it. There were two paintings — The Lily Apartments (1926) and Sun in an Empty Room (1963) — that are now my favorites (although nothing is displacing the warm hues of New York Movie). The latter, Sun in an Empty Room, is his last, and leaves us alone in the “act of looking.”
Before the exhibit, I was familiar with his work, but not the person. The exhibit succeeds because his technique is detailed in a graspable and relatable way. You also quickly get a sense of WHAT and WHO had the greatest influence on his character and work. In the case of the latter, it is meeting (at the New York School of Art), marrying, and partnering with Josephine in 1924.
One of my favorite exhibits is the entry they made for New York Movie in one of the record books they kept together. This painting of Jo (also an artist) is one of my favorites for very personal reasons.
Trip Summary – Part 2
People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering. — St. Augustine
One of my favorite quotes is from Goethe’s Faust [“Born to see; meant to look.”] so I was delighted to learn (via Carter Foster’s excellent essay Hopper’s Drawings) that Hopper carried a quote from him in his wallet. The quote (see below) is a good summary of his life’s work:
“The beginning and end of all literary activity is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me by means of the world that is in me, all things being grasped, related, re-created, molded, and reconstructed in a personal form and an original manner.”
Selfishly, what I also love about Hopper is that “he was, famously, a man of few words.” I am not a good or even average storyteller, but my observations usually manifest in the books, poetry, art, and objects that adorn my bedroom (ornaments of a contemplative life) and that I like to share with family and friends. And in a culture where everything is tweeted, blogged, posted, recorded and made available for public consumption, the idea that my gross inability to articulate those fragments is reassuring. In this respect, if I had to carry a Goethe quote in my own wallet it would be:
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
Trip Summary – Part 3
I have one more quote (of course) and three important lessons to draw from his life and gleaned from the exhibit. Firstly, the lessons:
(1) Travel when you are young and then with your partner when you are older
(2) Immerse yourself in your surroundings (like Edward and Jo did in New York and Massachusetts)
(3) Your life has a purpose (even though it may be frustratingly unclear right now or not what you expected in the end).
The final quote is from the essay Hopper’s Walls by Mark W. Turner:
“Hopper’s inscrutability derived in part from his lifelong experiences of the city. Like so many of the most poignant artists of urban modernity, Hopper has a particularly acute ability to capture the relationship between individuals (alienated and otherwise) and the built environments they inhabit—hotels, theaters, apartments, office buildings. Further, he is almost instinctual in understanding that the experience of the transient, fleeting moment constitutes what it means to be modern. The city is a place of fragments, in which memory, history, and the self are in a continual and uncertain flux…”
Two postscripts: (1) Topsfield (1929) could have been in a Le Corbusier or Wright exhibit and (2) the boy in Boy and Moon looks like Nemo.