Edward Hopper’s Women

His influence—on coffee mugs, in movie frames and cartoons, and reprinted on countless posters and T-shirts—is so pervasive that it’s almost become debased. Yet Edward Hopper (1882–1967) is still with us, struggling against cliche, the subject of a small, focused new exhibit running through February. Occupying only two rooms, and comprising a baker’s dozen of his works, “Edward Hopper’s Women” is really a curatorial conceit to showcase Chop Suey. That iconic 1929 oil painting was recently announced as a future gift to SAM by local collector Barney Ebsworth. Its subject is, yes, women—two of them sitting in a typically lonely Hopper restaurant. All of which invites discussion of the predatory male gaze, urban anomie, vulnerable women in the big,bad city. More clichés, really. But consider Hopper as a formalist, not a sociologist. His frames are tightly bounded by the city’s own street grid, windows and doorways, awnings and marquees. The light source is usually electric, as in 1922’s Automat, where parallel rows of bulbs run like railroad tracks on a dark ceiling. The only forms that could be considered organic are his human subjects; it’s almost a shock to see a potted tree or vased flower. Even the sun, in the occasional daylight composition, seems blasted from a carbon-arc lamp. Perspectives are eye-level: as if from the street or a nearby cafe table. Diagonals are rare. His figures may invite our present reading as sad victims of an unyielding, uncaring city. But they are also forerunners of our own hectic, metropolitan lives, when a moment of stillness and solitude is precious. Place a laptop in front of one of Hopper’s women, or plug an iPod in her ears, and I’m not sure she’s lonely at all. Complementary photos from Imogen Cunningham, Danny Lyons, Walker Evans, and others demonstrate Hopper’s durable eye. (Closed Mon.) BRIAN MILLER

Nov. 18-March 1, 2008

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