Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Master in a Lesser Crowd

Here is a commentary, based upon an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, about Edward Hopper and modern art. To quote:
Our best artists absorb their influences rather than simply reflect them, which is why Hopper's work rises above so much of even the most admirable other art on display here. The show puts Hopper within a context that relates him to those of his contemporaries with whom he had an affinity in reflecting the unromantic realities of their increasingly modernizing and industrializing world. But that's not what happens when you actually look at the works on view. For one thing, most of the painters are hard-core romantics whose approach suggests a kind of tenderness toward the nitty-gritty world that they ultimately must manipulate to fit with their individual representational styles of painting....

The exhibition is introduced with selected clips from the 1920 Charles Sheeler-Paul Strand film collaboration "Manhatta," which best encapsulates the sensibility that the show is meant to evoke: transforming the 19th century's affair with the great new land into an even more intense romance with the wonders of urban modernism. Whatever the merits of the exhibition, this doesn't really happen in most of the paintings on view—as distinct from the much more evocative photographs by, for example, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the juxtaposition of three street scenes—two fine etchings by Hopper and Martin Lewis, and a Strand photograph, in which the prints almost seem to mimic the camera's intensity. Perhaps the lesson is that as photography elbowed its way into art, a modern medium was the best means of truly describing modern life.

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