Dennis Hopper's work in Taos is good, but not that good.
By: Zane Fischer 05/12/2009
Getting up close and personal with Dennis Hopper, that famous freaky
tweaker, has got a certain kind of charm.
Reportedly, Hopper approached David Lynch after reading the Blue
Velvet script and said he had to play the role of Frank because,
well, he is Frank. So, when you find yourself at a press conference
with Hopper/Frank in a Taos museum, you hope he'll cuss out the guy
with the stupid question or shoot the annoying woman holding a giant
camera or at least bust out with some Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Instead, Hopper rambled about the CIA, the Boston Strangler, Jesus
Christ and how the famed psychic Peter Hurkos believed 12 bodies were
buried in Taos Mountain along with strange, perhaps infinitely
powerful, copper objects. He also kissed a small girl on the head and
paused to take a phone call. Charming, if less deranged than one might want.
Significantly more orderly than expected is Hopper's artwork in the
bluntly titled exhibition Hopper Photographs and Paintings. The show
runs concurrent with the equally straightforward exhibition Hopper
Curates, for which Hopper selected work by his old buddieshis Taos
posse, if you willincluding Larry Bell, Ron Cooper, Ronald Davis,
Ken Price and Robert Dean Stockwell.
Hopper's own works are a mix of photographs and paintings. The
paintings are mostly of photographs, and the photographs, according
to Hopper, are mostly attempts at achieving a painterly, abstract
expressionist sensibility. So that's weird.
As a painter, he's not bad, but stuck in limbo between being way
above average but not really good enough to make a lasting
impression. It's no surprise, given his career in film, that his
photographic sensibility is more keen. Early photographs of his
T-town homeboys provide historical context and a fine instinct for
evocative portraits. Hopper's recent photographs are of decayed walls
with the textured remnants of past posted bills and other urban
ephemera: captures of small, natural moments framed according to Hopper's will.
As Hopper led the bumbling, starstruck press corps through the
exhibition he curated, he paused at a giant torchère by Ron Cooper, a
functional sculpture that reveals the profile of Marcel Duchamp in
its curves and angles. Tellingly, Hopper explained Duchamp to his
largely oblivious audience as "the guy who said in the future artists
won't make art, they'll just point at things and declare them art."
And that's exactly what Hopper does with his photographspoints his
camera at things and calls them art.
Cooper probably has the best, most relevant work in the curated show:
a series of plastic bottles found in Mexico with "brands" or slogans
hand-lettered in sign-painter's enamel that say things like "puro
chingon" and "sin químico," often in stylized gothic or Old English
typeface. As for his paintings, Cooper's spare early work overpowers
his busier, newer ones.
Ken Price declined to exhibit his signature ceramic work; Hopper
chose instead a suite of prints, cityscapes and interiors, which some
might find dated but are refreshing in the context. There are no real
surprises from the remaining suspects.
Hopper says he agreed to the exhibitions because Taos County is
celebrating the 40th anniversary of Easy Rider (parts of which were
filmed in Taos) and the so-called "summer of love" with a marketing
campaign called Taos Summer of Love 2009.
The exhibition and the marketing campaign go all summer long, but a
sweet little exhibition of drawings by Edward Corbettadjacent to the
Hopper hullaballooends on June 8. The Corbett show? That's really
worth fussing over.
Hopper Photographs and Paintings
Through Sept. 20
Edward Corbett Drawings
Through June 8
Harwood Museum of Art
238 Ledoux St., Taos