Lucid Culture


Shadows and Angles: Edward Hopper Retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Fascinatingly, this exhibit concentrates on Hopper’s landscapes and city scenes from the 1920s, rather than the voyeuristic interiors for which he’s best known. Hopper was absolutely obsessed with shadow: in many of these works, the light is amplified just so that he can get a nice solid patch of black under the eaves or behind a fencepost. Subtleties of shading are not so much an issue here. But his eye for extremes of illumination was equally good: in one oil of a lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the near side of the obelisk is rendered without detail, blinding in its reflection of the afternoon sun. 


There are some especially notable, lesser-known New York scenes as well, a view of the upper stories and rooves of the brick apartments on Broadway in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just before the Marcy Avenue J train stop, as well as two fascinating views of Chinatown from the walkway of the Manhattan Bridge (East Broadway does not seem to have changed in eighty years).


Otherwise, it’s the Hopper we know and love: a scene’s focal point is never front and center, serving strictly as a backdrop for a desolate road, hillside or sand dune. Nobody communicates with anyone; everyone is absolutely and completely alone. And perhaps the most chilling painting of all is one of his final works, a death-obsessed depiction of an empty room, washes of yellow-ochre shadows set off by the sharpest of angles where the walls meet the floor and ceiling.


Finally, in the last section before the exit, there are all the greatest hits, including Hopper’s big enchilada, Nighthawks, the famous all-night diner scene (with the marquee advertising Phillies cigars fifty years before their signature Blunt would become synonymous with all-night revelry). There’s also the secretary in the tight dress, after hours with her inscrutable boss seated at his office desk; the usherette under the balcony in the theatre, oblivious to the movie she’s seen dozens of times; and Automat, with its young woman sitting dressed to the nines, all by herself, lost in thoughts that one would probably not want to imagine. 

 Open through August 19, 10 AM (early arrival recommended) to 3:30 PM, expensive ($23 general admission for adults plus $6 for the exhibit) but worth it if you can afford it.

July 16, 2007 - Posted by | Art, Reviews

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