Edward Hopper and Photography @Whitney

JTF (just the facts): A paired show matching paintings by Edward Hopper with photographs by a selection of 6 photographers. The 18 works on view are variously framed and matted and hung against white walls in a single room gallery space on the fifth floor mezzanine. All of the works were drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.

The following photographers/artists have been included in the show, with the number of works on view and image details as background:

  • Gregory Crewdson: 1 chromogenic print, 2004
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1994
  • William Eggleston: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1970, 1 dye transfer print, 1965-1974/2002, 1 chromogenic print, 1978
  • Steve Fitch: 2 gelatin silver prints, 1971-1976
  • Todd Hido: 2 chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 1997/2005
  • Edward Hopper: 7 oils, 1921, 1922-1923, 1930, 1948, 1955, 1960, 1961
  • Stephen Shore: 1 silver dye bleach print, 1975/1976

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Ahead of the museum’s transformative move to the Meatpacking district later this fall and amid the bustle of the bursting Jeff Koons retrospective, the Whitney has shoehorned one last small permanent collection exhibit into the in-between mezzanine space, a modest pairing of a handful of paintings by Edward Hopper and a dozen photographs that share some aspects of Hopper’s often lonely aesthetic. Building off of Hopper’s controlled use of light and his interest in the subject matter of vernacular America, the show attempts to draw visual parallels, not implying direct influence or causation necessarily (although some certainly exists), but laying out a series of shared affinities and distant echoes. While the specific matches on view aren’t particularly striking or revelatory (likely given the limits of the Whitney’s collection), the broader connections being argued are absolutely visible in varying degrees.

Countless American photographers have made successful pictures of railroad tracks, gas stations, motels, storefronts, and other architectural details of small cities and towns across the nation, but what draws many of them back to Hopper for inspiration is his ability to set mood with light. As seen in the few paintings on display here, his light can be lazy and sultry, withering and bright, faded and melancholy, often adding a touch of mystery and poignancy to an otherwise ordinary seeming moment. He also knew how to use compositional emptiness and ambivalence to his advantage, leaving rooms, sidewalks, streets, and even gestures open ended, allowing the hint of a narrative to be filled in by the viewer.

Of the photographers included here, Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson have the most obvious aesthetic parallels with Hopper. Hido’s suburban scenes turn on the use of light: the warm glow of interior light (as seen from outside), the softness of diffused light (in shadowy rooms), and the nuanced environmental emotions they imply are often the main characters in his pictures. Crewdson’s monumental image uses a foggy intersection as the backdrop for a Hopper-esque moment of situational uncertainty, albeit amplified from subtle realism to more cinematic melodrama. The other photographs on view from Shore, Eggleston, diCorcia, and Fitch seem less directly descended from Hopper, although echoes of long shadows, afternoon light, quiet solitude, and seamy roadside culture certainly show commonalities of thought and awareness of approach.

Given the strength of Hopper’s artistic influence, a larger, more comprehensive show with many more photographers, both literal minded Hopper disciples and more tangential followers, could have been mounted, giving us a clearer and more nuanced picture of how his ideas have been incorporated and modified by subsequent generations of artists and photographers. This smaller show is instead more of a friendly teaser, a single self-contained room that introduces the conceptual framework of Hopper as a forefather, lays out a few examples, and leaves the deeper discussion for another time.

Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum show, there are of course no posted prices. Most of the photographers included in the exhibit have established gallery relationships and robust secondary markets (search the Artist Index for relevant follow up information). Steve Fitch is perhaps less well known than the others; his work is represented by Robert Koch in San Francisco (here) and Kopeikin in Los Angeles (here).

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Read more about: Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Stephen Shore, Steve Fitch, Todd Hido, William Eggleston, Whitney Museum of American Art

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