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HOPPER’S HORIZONTAL CITY

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART has an exhibition described by Karen Rosenberg as “Edward Hopper’s Fantasy Island.” Here are tidbits gleaned from her article in The New York Times, November 22, 2022, together with my own musings.

Nighthawks, 1942, by Edward Hopper.

The artist’s familiar Nighthawks has recurred here at SimanaitisSays, indeed, once as inspiration for an opera set.

Hopper’s Fantasy. Karen Rosenberg notes that, “the artist long described as a Realist is recast as the architect of his own personal fantasy metropolis. He dispenses almost entirely with street life and traffic, ignores skyscrapers and the Brooklyn Bridge, and inserts imaginary buildings where it suits him.”

“He peers in at private apartments from elevated trains,” she notes, “and surveys his own neighborhood from rooftops. He turns offices, restaurants and movie theaters into stages for just one or two actors. He paints windows and storefronts without glass, as if he could just reach in and touch the people and things inside.”

The Horizontal City. Rosenberg quotes Museum of Modern Art director Alfred H. Barr Jr.: “His indifference to skyscrapers is remarkable in a painter of New York architecture.”

Early Sunday Morning, 1930: “a good example of Hopper’s emphasis on what the curators call the ‘Horizontal City.’ ”

“Here’s an occasion,” Rosenberg says, “to trot out works like “Early Sunday Morning,” which makes a tidy Anytown of rowhouses along Seventh Avenue.”

A Rooftop View. There’s a horizontal aspect even when viewed from a rooftop. This one depicts Hopper’s Washington Square neighborhood, with chimneys serving as sentinels. 

Roofs, 1926, watercolor over charcoal.

Rosenberg quotes the show’s curator Kim Conaty in her catalog essay: “Hopper’s identification with this view signals his personal stake in this place, laying claim not only to the space he rented within the building but also to all that he could see from this vantage point.”

An Early Landscape. Hopper “came to New York from the suburb of Nyack, across the Hudson,” Rosenberg writes, “commuting in for art school by ferry before moving to East 59th Street in 1908 and finally settling into his longtime home at Washington Square in 1913.”

Blackwell’s Island, 1911, oil on canvas. 

Even this grassy stretch of Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) is seen from an elevated interior view. 

A Room with a View. In this sunlit setting, Rosenberg writes, “The artist left out the Brooklyn Bridge, and most of Brooklyn, focusing on an interior and a low-rise exterior view.” 

Room in Brooklyn, 1932, oil on canvas. 

The woman “in a stately, sunlit brownstone” appears content with simply admiring the view. There’s no artist’s paraphernalia nor writing desk nearby. Might she be knitting?

Hopper’s Late Works. Rosenberg observes, “In his late works, from around 1950 on, New York becomes simply ‘a city,’ or ‘the city.’ These are the Hoppers that tend to resonate most with a contemporary audience, both for their mood of alienation (lately interpreted with an eye to pandemic isolation) and the set-like appearance of the rooms the figures inhabit.” 

Sunlight in a Cafeteria, 1958, oil on canvas.

Rosenberg describes Sunlight in a Cafeteria: “where a man and woman seated at neighboring tables in a corporate canteen seem not to acknowledge each other.” She likens it to experiences felt during isolation of the pandemic. Despite the bright sunlight, to me there’s a noir ambiance that something is about to happen.

A Catalog Ordered. The exhibition runs through March 5, 2023, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan. Alas, it’s a vast continent away from me. 

On the other hand, I’ve already ordered Edward Hopper’s New York from the Whitney Shop. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

One comment on “HOPPER’S HORIZONTAL CITY

  1. photowrite2000
    November 27, 2022

    Nice overview. I was not familiar with most of Hopper’s work, except of course for the famous Nighthawks. He had a very long career! Though I like to think of myself as an artist, my parents were the real artists in the family and Dad was a commercial artist for most of my youth. Specifically he was an architectural illustrator and I know he was familiar with Hopper. I wonder what his take would be on this exhibit and its commentary on Hopper’s horizontal view of city life.

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