Dennis Hopper: Double Standard
Museum of Contemporary Art
It’s been a long while since we (yes, the royal we) posted about a MOCA exhibition, which is sad since it was the museum that was closest to where I used to live in LA. A lot has happened since Collection: the First 30 Years opened not so long ago. MOCA is under new management, Jeffery Deitch from New York. Changes are afoot, and Deitch wasted no time organizing new exhibitions. The show is curated by (non-MOCA employee) Julian Schnabel, who like Hopper, is also a director slash artist. The show is, of course, Dennis Hopper: Double Standard. The show was being organized while the famous director/actor/artist? was still alive, but sadly Hopper passed before the show opened in the beginning of July. The show is presented at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo.
You enter the space down a flight of stairs and immediately see the ass of a large colorful sculpture of a man in a sombrero. This retrospective is not organized chronologically which I actually don’t mind in the slightest, the groupings are thematic or organized by medium. There is a combination of large-scale sculptures, photographs and other media in the first room—an introduction to all the kinds of media that Hopper dabbled in. As previously mentioned, the first thing you see is the ass of Salsa Man (2000) a massive pop sculpture of a mustachioed man holding a tray. You have to walk around the man to see him frontally which is the kind of curation that demands movement.
This movement gets visitors to the wall text, which is actually chalk full of information, but is still all the info provided for the whole show. Some things at MOCA will never change. Other than thanking the sponsors (duh the Broad Foundation, which doesn’t own any Hopper works), the intro walltext also gives a concise rundown on the works in the show. It explains Hopper’s interest in AbEx, how all but one of his AbEx paintings were destroyed in a fire, which begs to question: Where is this one painting MOCA? It also explains the gap in Hopper’s artistic production from the end of the 60s until ’81.
Salsa Man is paired with a sculpture on the same scale Mobile Man (2000), both face out away from the rest of the exhibition towards the large garage doors of the gallery space. This seemed odd to me, until I looked at photos from the opening reception where the garage door was open and people entered the exhibition that way. This enforces speculations about the purpose(s) of this show, is it really to promote this artist?—Or to be attendance booster? And what kinds of people (Hollywood types) is Deitch trying to get involved with MOCA? Regardless the garage space in interesting considering its similarity to Hopper’s mixed-use home/workshop space out in Venice.
The second room is dominated by Bomb Drop (1967/68/2000); I have no idea what the slash in the date is for (maybe it is a recreated piece) thanks for the explanation MOCA. The piece is very reminiscent of that Oldenberg Swiss Army Knife Boat (that wonderful prop). This is pretty much characteristic of Hopper’s work, it was obviously inspired by other artists, many of whom he was besties with. This room seems to be devoted to Hopper’s dabbling (yes I’m going to use this word multiple times) with Pop Art. A Coca Cola Sign (1962) hangs in this gallery. It is labeled as a “found object,” which begs to question the authorship of the piece, did Hopper even consider this one of his works, or was it something he had in his house that he hung on one of his walls?
The next two rooms, and my favorites, were all about photographs. The curators used the whole length of the walls and hung works on high and on low (much more stimulating than hanging them all in a row at the standard level). The photographs were clustered into themes: Pop Images, Civil Rights, Spain and Bullfighting (very Manet), Celebrity Friends, Artist Friends…Instead of having labels on the wall visitors were provided with laminated cards attached to a ring (kinda cheap) with all the info listed there. It was a fun game (for a while) to focus on one photo and attempting to find its label on the laminated sheets.
The most telling clumping of photos was the ones of Hopper’s celebrity artist friends. Present were: Larry Bell, Bill Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Allan Kaprow, Craig Kauffman, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenberg, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol. (Notice a lot of big LA names—who’s looking forward to PST?—I am!) This wall of famous artist friends is very telling about the kinds of people Hopper surrounded himself with, and makes a lot of sense when examining his artistic practices.
Following the two photography rooms, was a room with three humungous paintings. All of them were blown up versions of photographs from the previous room. The title work Double Standard (2009) was accompanied by Biker Couple (2000) from a ’61 photograph, and Rope (2003). I wonder if Double Standard was commissioned specifically for this show, it’s unclear how these works were executed, and whether Hopper actually painted them himself, or if they were just printed on huge canvases. No collection or other notation is mentioned on the labels for these works.
At the back of the gallery is a dark theater with seating where there is a selection of movie clips called “Excerpts on Freedom” edited by Julian Schnabel. It features clips from movies Hopper either acted in or directed: Easy Rider, The American Dreamer, Out of the Blue, Apocalypse Now, Giant, The American Friend, True Romance (damn that’s a lot of imdb links). This theater acts as a kind of footnote: oh yeah and Hopper was an actor and director. But wait, that’s what he is actually most known for, you’re trying to convince me he was an artist remember MOCA.
Another wing of the exhibition features additional large scale photorealistic paintings. Henry Geldzahler (2009) form the Met, and Lichtenstein (2000) no collection mentioned hang with Warhol with Flower (2004) from a ’63 photograph in the other room.
The exhibition as a whole was much better than expected, I thought that the curators might attempt to deemphasize Hopper’s influences (his artist friends) and promote Hopper as more original then he really was. The show is very honest; the writing is on the wall: in the form of Hopper’s portraits of his famous artist friends.
And now for your delight I present a complete waste of money spent shooting and editing a girl flipping through the Hopper exhibition catalogue. Really? Really! Is this necessary for any reason MOCA?
Oh and in case you missed it, MOCA has a blog. Who knew. The curiously titled The Curve looks like it is fairly old, but didn’t go public until fairly recently. And look they do posts just of installation shots (I’m sure a lot of work went into crafting this post). Now you don’t even need to go see the exhibition.