Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950
Smithsonian American Art Museum

To coincide with a major show of Edward Hopper landscapes at the Beyeler Foundation, director Wim Wenders brings his personal touch with a 3D film inspired by some of Hopper’s iconic paintings. The enigmatic scenes of ordinary people frozen in unfinished stories come to life in Wenders’ tribute to one of most important American painters of the last century. The 14-minute film bears witness to the love of Hopper for movies and in turn to Hopper’s influence on Wenders’ films.

Article published by Swissinfo on 02.02.20: SWISSINFO LINK

Edward Hopper, A Fresh Look at Landscapes at Beyeler concentrates on a lesser-known aspect of Hopper’s work – and certainly less hypnotic than his portraits of lost souls – but they hold the key to understanding the secretive and remote artist.

The striking collection of paintings of the golden fields of America, the beauty of its shores and always, the slicing light of the beginning or end of the day reveal Hopper’s closeness to nature.

“My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature,” Hopper wrote in Notes on painting in 1933.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) turned away from a successful career as a graphic illustrator to become a painter who produced relatively few paintings. While his exact contemporary Picasso (1881-1973) was churning out almost 2’000 paintings, Hopper’s made less than 400.

The striking collection of paintings of the golden fields of America, the beauty of its shores and always, the slicing light of the beginning or end of the day reveal Hopper’s closeness to nature.

Edward Hopper, Cape Ann Granite, 1928
© Heirs of Josephine Hopper / 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich

Hopper also loved the houses and lighthouses of New England on the north-eastern coast of the US where he lived, of which many have entered his landscapes, some of them curiously out of proportion, as if sliding down a hill. And none of them have finished windows or doors, the show’s curator, Ulf Küster pointedly observed. On the darker side, he also likened the thick bands of forest or opaque vegetation that block the background of many of Hopper’s paintings, as in Gaz or Cape Cod morning, to Hopper’s own hermetic personality.

Edward Hopper Lighthouse Hill, 1927
Dallas Museum of Art

“Sometimes talking to him was like throwing a pebble in a well, except that you wouldn’t hear it hit the water,” said Jo Hopper of her husband’s introversion.

Samuel Keller, the director of the Beyeler foundation who knows the US well, sees in Hopper the melancholia of the American dream, which, he said, is very important for the identity of Americans. Keller founded Art Basel Miami when he was still head of Art Basel before moving to Beyeler 12 years ago.

“But I also think that Hopper has hugely influenced how Europeans see America, especially through the eyes of the many great filmmakers that he has inspired.”

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Wim Wenders

One those filmmakers is Wim Wenders who was invited by the Beyeler Foundation to contribute to the Hopper exhibition. Wenders, the director of the cult movies Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, chose to use pictures that are not in the show (save Gaz, see above) as storyboards to a personal short film that he entitled Two or Three Things I know about Edward Hopper.

“I didn’t even know who Hopper was when I first came across his work at the Whitney in the early seventies,” admits Wenders. “It was one of the most surprising discoveries of a visual artist that I have ever made.”

Wenders was in Basel to premiere the film that runs in a loop at the heart of the Hopper exhibition and that adds mysterious, silent and troubling narratives to the suspended plots of some of Hopper’s key paintings. The film is silent, except for the powerful music of French composer Laurent Petitgand.

Wim Wenders at the opening of the Beyeler exhibition on 24 January 2020 in front of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod morning, 1950, photo Michele Laird

“The greatest mystery is how Hopper manages to make us wonder what is going on and what is going to happen next,” Wenders explained. “His characters are in a state of expectation.”

Wenders does exactly the same thing in his film based on several well-known Hopper paintings, except that he adds an element of menace and foreboding. The blond in the pink slip in Morning Sun (1952) is brutally yanked away from her cigarette pause by her boyfriend, or is he the brothel owner? The man sitting on the edge of the bed in Excursion into philosophy (1959), may have tasted the pleasures of the flesh and is looking forward to breakfast, or has he strangled the woman limp by his side?

Trailer “Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper” by Wim Wenders

“It’s just as well that Hopper never explained his work, he left us to complete the scenes with our own imagination,” Wenders enthused, adding that Hopper’s paintings are like a film that is about to begin: “Even the camera is in the right position!”

Many of Wenders vignettes start by reproducing a famous Hopper scene, but then suddenly the figures step out of the picture as if regaining their lives.

To capture the America of Hopper’s time, Wenders returned to Butte, Montana, a ghost city since the closure of the mines, and where he had already made his own film in 2005, Don’t come knocking, with Sam Shepard. The wide deserted avenues and empty windows were already pure Hopper (and so much easier to film when the windowpanes are missing, commented the German director), and so were the figures of a young woman in a summer dress and a sinister-looking scar-face who is silently observing her.

The young woman in the Wenders film is played by Tallulah Jones who is also in Summer Evening (1947).

“There is a weight to make the picture come alive with you,” she said at the opening where she had just seen the film for the first time. The long discussions with Wenders on what had just happened in a Hopper picture, or was about to happen, were the best part of the journey, she recollected. She pointed out that the music, like in all Wenders films, is what holds the scenes together.

Two or Three Things I know about Edward Hopper was made in 3D to be shown in a museum environment because Wenders wants viewers to experience the immersive film as they might a painting.

“It is always a unique experience when you are in front of the original and not its reproduction: the connective tissues of our brain are solicited differently.

It’s a dream for me to show this film-installation at the center of this wonderful exhibition.”

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 11.33.30

Edward Hopper, Morning Sun, 1952, Columbus Museum of Art & A still from ‘Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper’ by Wim Wenders, 2020 © Road Movies

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 11.32.43

Edward Hopper, Summertime, 1943, Delaware Art Museum & still from ‘Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper’ by Wim Wenders, 2020 © Road Movies

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 11.33.04

Edward Hopper, Summer Evening, 1947, private collection & still from ‘Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper’ by Wim Wenders, 2020 © Road Movies

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 11.32.12

Edward Hopper, Excursion into Philosophy, 1959, private collection &  still from ‘Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper’ by Wim Wenders, 2020 © Road Movies

Edward Hopper, Second Story Sunlight, 1960
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Edward Hopper Portrait of Orleans, 1950
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco © Randy Dodson

Edward Hopper, A Fresh Look at Landscapes

January 26 – May 17, 2020

Beyeler Foundation 

23 March 2020:

Directors’ Movie Night & talk with Wim Wenders & Wes Anderson in Zurich

The Fondation Beyeler will screen Wim Wenders’s 3D short film Two or Three Things I Know about Edward Hopper (2020), as well as a short film by Wes Anderson that has yet to be announced. A conversation with the two directors moderated by Christian Jungen, artistic director of the Zurich Film Festival, will follow.

Wim Wenders news

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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