a great american pessimist


Edward Hopper, viewed a certain way, becomes a dear old chestnut. Rooftops, lonely girls, railroad tracks, gas stations (those queer old pumps), soda fountains, spooky-quaint houses. A melancholy Norman Rockwell. He can be used to conceal a cranky dislike for abstract, modern, and contemporary art—Hopper himself didn’t think much of the Picassos and Pollocks of the world—and he remains, as always, good box office. The Whitney, often rebuked for being trendily obscure, all but owns the Hopper franchise. Shouldn’t the museum enjoy a moment of rest, reputation, and the elderly paying customer? Inevitably “Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time,” organized by Barbara Haskell and Sasha Nicholas, will have something of this cozy old-movie feel. Drawn almost entirely from the Whitney’s collection, the show is constructed around Hopper, but includes work from 34 other well-known artists who made their names before World War II and whose imagery is fairly realistic. (They range from John Sloan of the Ashcan School to the Precisionist Charles Sheeler.) The show intends to have a jangly urban emphasis, but the “modern life” invoked in the title obviously refers to a different modern than the one we know today. This is a survey of another, earlier America.

more from Mark Stevens at New York Magazine here.