18 February 2020
One could sum up the work of Edward Hopper, the subject of a large exhibition on until 17th May at the Beyeler Foundation (designed by Renzo Piano) in Riehen, a few kilometres from Basel, as rather like De Chirico telling the story of America in the first half of the 20th century in the voice of Robert Altman. A shy and reserved artist, Hopper’s work is characterised by cityscapes, isolated houses near railways or looking out to sea, empty petrol stations, rusty train tracks across fields, nocturnal city views, nigh-deserted interiors of hotels or bars in which every client is plunged into their own isolation. They are spaces suspended in time, solitary, mysterious, almost. Like the great Italian painter, the structure of his paintings is simple, geometric, approached from a diagonal angle that makes them look even more like photo snaps, alternating areas of shadow and light and amazing colours; he builds almost all his pictures around a line separating interior from exterior, natural space and urban space. In his many canvases depicting domesticity, in almost filmlike frames, the artist seems to be spying on the unsuspecting inhabitants of these houses and revealing moments of ordinary life.
Although Hopper is regarded as the father of American Realism, having redefined the stylistic and aesthetic canons of the time, no exhibition thus far has comprehensively tackled his approach to landscape. The Beyeler Foundation has gathered together his most iconic oil paintings and a selection of watercolours and drawings in which the landscape really is the protagonist. Thus we are presented with geometrically lucid American scenes in which houses symbolise human settlement, train tracks that structure horizontal images and represent man’s attempt to conquer the land; blue skies, sunsets and middays that draw on the immensity of nature and its constant transformation; lighthouses that become points of reference in the vastness of the sea.
Just to make this exhibition even more special, there is a short 3D film by Wim Wenders. Entitled Two or Three Things I Know About Edward Hopper, the German filmmaker translates the typical American spirit of Hopper’s work into film. It is a personal tribute to the most cited painter on the big screen. From Alfred Hitchcock who chose the house in Psycho with Hopper’s white Victorian houses in mind, to Kevin Costner who was inspired by his wild landscapes for Dancing with Wolves, while lampposts, petrol stations and motels all frequently appear in the films of David Lynch and Wim Wenders himself.
Runs until 17th May