Art Talk: MoMA's Mea Culpa to Hopper and O'Keefe

Friday, August 09, 2013

Georgia O'Keefe's "Evening Star," 1917 (Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art)

Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe are considered some of the best American artists of the 20th century. But it was not easy to find their work at the Museum of Modern Art. At least not until now.

MoMA is opening a new exhibit next Saturday, August 17th, called "American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe."

Art critic and WNYC contributor Deborah Solomon says the show is a "Mea Culpa" for MoMA. "It comes about 75 years too late," she said. "By now all the artists on the show such as Hopper and O'Keefe and their ilk are dead, and their work is internationally acclaimed, but I guess better decades late than ever."

Solomon explained that MoMA has often highlighted other European artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and a later generation of American artists, like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

To listen to the whole interview with Solomon, click on the audio link above.

And who do you think will go down in history as the emblematic American artist, Pollock or Hopper? Leave a comment below.


Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Edward Hopper, "House by The Railroad," 1925
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Elie Nadelman, "Woman at Piano," 1920-4
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Arthur Dove, "Willows," 1940
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Charles Burchfield, "Firsthepaticas," 1917-18

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Comments [11]

Penelope from Astoria

Abstract Expressionism, as the quintessential American Art, has unfortunately been the but of jokes for over 60 years. How many times have we heard, "My two year old can pant like Pollock". It is "art for art's sake", with the capital "A", without meaning (yeah I know it has meaning!), formal, and, not coincidentally, created during Mccarthyism (when creative folks-and everyone else- were afraid to speak). An individual needs an education in art history to understand Abstract Expressionism.

If you ask me, there is lots of really important American 20th century art. For example, the WPA era was a fantastic time for the arts in America. And YES to Hopper, Burchfield, O'Keefe, and the others!

Aug. 12 2013 12:36 PM
Lisa Goebel from NYC

Is MOMA's American Modern show a mea culpa, I'm not sure, but Deborah Solomon has raised some reasonable questions as to why MOMA has not featured these artists before while secreting their artwork in back hallways of the museum. The catalogue for the show also sounds defensive. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to the show, which sounds worthwhile.

Aug. 11 2013 02:56 PM
adam hanft from LI

Deborah - to your point about the role of Hopper versus Pollack, I see them as representing two profound artistic modes of expression that manifest themselves clearly in a literary analogue. Hopper's "Night Owl" and similar paintings of deracinated, alienated experience can be found in a line from Hemingway to Raymond Carver and the other minimalists. I see Pollack's self-conscious expressiveness in the Faulkner tradition that takes us through experimental fiction, even touching David Foster Wallace. Hopper speaks to the artist's engagement with representing the culture; Pollack speaks to the artist's representation of the how the culture makes them feel. Hopper sees himself in the world, Pollack sees the world in himself.

Adam Hanft

Aug. 10 2013 08:49 PM
deborah solomon

Hi Richard, Thanks for writing. I love Hartley too and was surprised to see that MoMA included his "Evening Storm, Schoodic Maine" in in its show but left out his earthily gorgeous "Boots."

Aug. 10 2013 11:11 AM
Richard Staub

For me it's neither. I much prefer Marsden Hartley. If the Whitney had a collection of Hartley comparable to its Hopper collection, I think we'd be hearing much more about MH. And it has distressed me to see what they hang in the hallway for the reasons you gave. It suggests they're second string.

Aug. 09 2013 07:54 PM
deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hi everyone -- Thanks for your comments.

Orin: I agree that Man Ray was a pioneer of post-modernism and the mix master aesthetic that now prevails in art, but I have never found his work deep enough to satisfy. Too much play, not enough feeling.

Rachel from NYC: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am glad you agree with me on the hallway matter. MoMA definitely needs to take Hopper and Wyeth out of the hall!

Dayna: Thanks for reminding me of the Reginald Marsh show, which I am eager to see.

Happy art-going --

xo D.

Aug. 09 2013 09:02 AM

I hope to see Hopper's pictures in korea.

Aug. 09 2013 08:36 AM
Deb from Brooklyn

Hopper is always interesting to look at. With Pollack, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. I'd like to see more Charles Sheeler displayed.

Aug. 09 2013 08:33 AM
Orin from Queens

The 20th century is over, and it still isn't obvious to the art establishment that Man Ray is the emblematic 20th C. american artist. At the beginning of the 20th century maybe we could restrict this discussion to mere painters like Pollack and Hopper, but this is the 21st century and it should be clear by now that painting is only one dimension of art, to say nothing of "Modern" art. Man Ray's american spirit of innovation was too big for America so he went over to Paris where he could be with the other great minds of his time, so maybe there is a political element in leaving him out of the discussion. But he did come back to shoot more superstars than Andy Warhol can shake a stick at. He did iconic work in photography and sculpture and film that echoes more in current art practice than the old-media excellencies of Pollack and Hopper. When you consider true greats like da Vinci, Michelangelo and Picasso, who did great work outside of painting, only Americans like Man Ray and Robert Raushenberg are even comparable.

Aug. 09 2013 08:28 AM
rachel from nyc

Just remember that the question this week comes on the heels of you calling the Hopper drawings at the Whitney, "boring." Anyway......
I think in general, modern art in America has always been Eurocentric given the Armory Show of 1913 and Gallery 291. We tend to remember the European artists from that time. The inclination is to recall Duchamp, Picasso, Matisse, etc. Some of the real stars are Dove, Marin, Hartley, O'Keefe and the like. I don't see MoMA's exhibit as a mea culpa, but more a reminder of who else matters in the history of modern art. I agree that MoMA really needs to rethink where these works hang (and exhibit them more often!) as hallways are Siberia for any work of art.
So to answer your question - Hopper.

Aug. 09 2013 08:07 AM
Dayna Bealy from Brooklyn

Re MoMA showing Hopper et al the American Modernists: there is a fantastic show at the New-York Historical Society of Reginald Marsh's work, only up till Sept 1. Was blown away, especially by the paintings that had no glass to look through! Badly publicized, but so worth seeing.

Aug. 09 2013 07:53 AM

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