Art News Roundup: American Spirit Edition

In case you missed it, my latest for The Federalist was published yesterday, in which I reviewed the new exhibition, “Edward Hopper and the American Hotel”, which just opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond. After a long run in Richmond through late February, it will move on to Indianapolis until late summer of 2020, so those of you in the Midwest will have the opportunity to see it as well. I just wanted to offer a couple of additional thoughts about the show for my readers, since you can’t possibly squeeze everything into a single review article for a magazine, not even an online one.

No matter how well you think you know an artist, a really good exhibition is one in which you end up learning something totally new about his work. In this case, the new-to-me aspect was a series of watercolors that Edward Hopper painted while he and his wife Josephine were on vacation in Mexico. Just as the Hopper retrospective at the National Gallery back in 2007 exposed me to the artist’s gloriously bright oil paintings of coastal Maine, which I had never seen before, and which seemed far more happy than his usual work, so, too, these Mexican watercolors were quite the revelation. They’re more muted in tone than his boldly-colored seascapes, and yet somehow I just like the idea of the Hoppers sitting on the roof terrace of whatever hotel they’re staying in, having some margaritas and a smoke while sketching and enjoying the views of the sky and mountains, tiled domes and lofty bell towers.

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This ties in rather nicely to another aspect of the exhibition, which was very enjoyable to experience. Because the Hoppers liked to take long road trips across the country, the show has interactive screens showing you some of the routes that they took, the hotels and motels where they stayed, and Jo’s messages from postcards sent to family and friends or selected notes from her diary. In one motel somewhere in Texas, for example, she goes into raptures about the indoor swimming pool, painted a cerulean blue. At another, she practically salivates over the interior decoration, and the combination of “Veronese Green” upholstery with teal curtains and carpets. She notes on one of the postcards that she clapped her hands in joy when she opened the drapes and saw the effect of that rather bold color combination in daylight.

What’s more, the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition provides something I’ve never seen before, but helps make the volume a particularly charming one – and a good Christmas gift idea for those of you looking for something different. In the back of the book is a pocket containing two removable, highly detailed road maps, that follow some of the trips which the Hoppers took in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Not only is this a terrific way to help teach children about both art and geography, but for the serious art nerds among you, I would think that planning a vacation along the same routes would be a great deal of fun. You can order the catalogue via the VMFA online shop by following this link.

Before we move on to some of this week’s more interesting art news stories, just an update on the Little Portion Hermitage project. Thank you again to those of you who have already donated, and who are keeping it in your prayers. We are doing well, slowly and steadily working toward our goal, but there’s still aways to go yet. If you or someone you know may be able to help, please consider joining in our effort to both encourage the eremitic life, and to finally get Brother Rex (and his cat, Clare) a permanent home. Your contribution is tax-deductible, and the charity is fully-licensed in the state of Maine. I’ve been greatly honored to have served on the board since its inception, and it means a great deal to me. So thank you, in advance, for your support.

Moore in Maine

Meanwhile, one of the new exhibitions in New York that I’m planning to drop in on this weekend would probably interest Edward Hopper himself, particularly since the subject is his beloved state of Maine. Contemporary artist John Moore (1941-) paints substantial, mesmerizing canvases in a style that recalls Photorealists such as Richard Estes (1932-), but with less of a hard edge, and employing a rich palette that, here, speaks to the pastel shades that often color the atmosphere after a passing shower. His latest show, “After the Rain”, which opened at Hirschl & Adler in New York just recently, juxtaposes decaying industrial elements with the beauty of water, cloud formations, and incredibly luxuriant plants that look as though they came out of a Medieval illuminated manuscript. The eye delights in Moore’s attention to detail, and the occasional note of visual humor challenges the brain into thinking more closely about what it sees. “After the Rain” runs through December 6th.

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Ray Rethink

Staying in New York for the moment, American Surrealist Man Ray (1890-1976) is probably best known these days as an experimental photographer, who created some of the most iconic images of the Art Deco era, in locations from Paris to Hollywood. Yet Ray always considered himself to be a painter, first and foremost, something which has been neglected in the years since his death. To help remedy that, a new exhibition of Ray’s paintings brought together from museums and private collections around the world has just opened at the Di Donna Galleries in New York, showing the wide range of images which Ray produced during his career. As the ongoing effort to complete the catalogue raisonné of Ray’s efforts on canvas and paper continues, shows such as this are critically important not only in drawing attention to an artist’s work, but also in flushing out pieces that may be forgotten or unidentified. What may prove particularly interesting here is what we’ll see starting to emerge from attics and rumpus rooms around the country, in reaction to renewed interest in Ray’s paintings, and start heading to the galleries and auction rooms. “Enigma and Desire: Man Ray Paintings” runs through December 13th.

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Humongous Hale

Speaking of Art Deco, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (“OKCMOA”) is about to unveil a newly-restored, ginormous work of that era, as part of a new exhibition on American art during the Great Depression. The 24-foot wide canvas, “The Triumph of Washington” (1931) was painted by American Realist Gardner Hale (1894-1931). Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Hale was an up-and-coming young artist who received commissions from around the country to paint giant frescoes and murals. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident in December 1931 while on vacation with his wife in California, and so he never got to see his mural displayed at the Smithsonian as part of the bicentennial celebrations marking George Washington’s birth. The piece later ended up in a private collection in New Jersey, where it was stored rolled up in a box for over 80 years, before being acquired by OKCMOA. You can check out a video of the massive canvas being installed, over on the Museum’s YouTube channel, and while the juxtaposition of Washington et al before a skyline of Art Deco skyscrapers and surrounded by a sea of flags is completely over the top, I have to say I kind of love it. “Renewing the American Spirit: The Art of the Great Depression” opens at the OKCMOA on Saturday, November 2nd, and runs through April 26th.

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