Edward Hopper at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Purveyor of the Great American Dream

If queues are anything to go by, American figurative painter Edward Hopper is currently one of the hottest tickets in town in Spain’s capital. The retrospective exhibition at the Thyssen displays works from the artist’s apprentice beginnings contrasted with later works, and showcases his strengths in his moody intimate interiors and empty landscape paintings.

Drawing crowds similar to London’s rush of ‘Blockbuster’ exhibitions for 2012, this exhibition ‘brings together the largest and most ambitious selection of works by the US artist ever to be shown in Europe’.  Seventy three works are on offer, the majority are Hoppers but the work of other artists is also sparingly used to show artistic conversations from the time.

One of the most impressive sections is contained within a small adjunct near the beginning of the show. Here a series of gorgeously rendered etchings lent from Washington glisten with dark intensity. In each work thick dense black rendering is cast dramatically against areas of stark white. One image, Night Shadows, shows a small dark figure cutting across a spotlighted concourse, lit from above while darkness encroaches inward from the edges of the paper. This could be a scene plucked straight from a film noir storyboard (in fact Hopper is often described as the creator of cinematic style works).

Edward Hopper, Night Shadows (1921), hard ground etching

Elsewhere, visitors are surrounded by figures with heavy moods and scarcely populated urban landscapes. Many painted during the era of American depression, these works are befitting of the current mood in Madrid.  Nobody smiles in Hopper paintings; they almost universally cast their heads downwards, or gaze blankly into futures unknown. All of Hopper’s protagonists seem to be waiting, looking towards the horizon and waiting for something to happen, for unknown futures to burst upon them and break their reverie.

Edward Hopper, New York Corner (1913), oil on canvas

Windows feature heavily and are emphasised through Curatorial decision-making.  In one famous painting a sombre nude woman stares out of a window, and hung directly opposite is a work inviting us to look inside the windows of a large apartment block building. The role of the voyeur is subtly transferred from the nude figure to ourselves: we are drawn into the lives being played out in these atmospheric images.

A strong and well curated exploration of the oeuvre of one of the Great American painters, this show is a must see if you plan to be in the area between now and September. One word of warning, on leaving the museum don’t become confused as to where paintings end and real life begins. When you walk past the stoic protesters stood outside the city’s banks and the shuttered empty shops, I promise you, this is where you’ll come to be immersed in the true spirit of the show.

Madrid Street, June 2012

Curated by Tomàs Llorens and Didier Ottinger.  On display until 16th September 2012.


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