Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hopper and Haydn

I’ve spent the past week racking my brains trying to come up with something interesting and profound to say about the Edward Hopper show at the Seattle Art Museum. I got nothing. I think I had a higher opinion of Hopper before the show than after it. There was something paltry about the exhibit. There were just enough paintings to show you his limitations but not enough to impress you with his overall talent.

SAM does this all the time – put together an exhibition which undermines its subject. The earlier show of Impressionists made all the impressionists look bad. Before that the show of Roman sculpture from the Louvre had works so full of 18th and 19th century “restorations” that only maybe a quarter of what was on display was actually Roman. SAM is perfect for Seattle – its art exhibitions are completely passive-aggressive.

Equally annoying is the ad campaign they’re using for the show. It features the painting “Automat” (above) and says “This woman is not a prostitute” (Really? How do you know?), the last word in a large, bold font. A blurb then tells us that Hopper’s paintings depict the changing roles of women in society. Oh, please. Spare me the amateur sociology. I hate it when people try to tell me an artist is significant for sociological/political reasons rather than artistic ones, as if art is there merely to document some other more important issue. It belittles and demeans the artist. Hopper’s painting have value as art, not as political statements. That's no way to advertise an art exhibit. That would be like having a Bruegel show and saying “These people are not receiving adequate health care.”

The highlight of my week – arts-wise, that is – was a production of Il Mondo della Luna at the UW. It’s a little-known opera written by Joseph Haydn in 1777. Two young men want to marry two sisters whose boorish father refuses to grant his permission. The impish lads concoct a scheme in which they drug the old man and convince him, when he awakes, that he has been transported to the world of the moon. Hijinks ensue. In the end, the lovers are united, foolish Dads are put in their place and everyone lives happily ever after - once they get that big, fat dowry.

Sound charming? Oh, you better believe it.

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