Friday, June 11, 2010

Hopper's Studio

To round off the week of Edward Hopper, a trip to his studio on Washington Square North. It was here, when he wasn't on Cape Cod, that Hopper painted from 1939 until his death in 1965.

all color photos: my flickr

In her Hopper biography, Gail Levin reports how NYU tried to evict the Hoppers in 1947, along with all the building tenants, raising the rents by 20% and refusing to renew any leases. Hopper told the press, "It's getting worse and worse. They're tearing studio buildings down and none are going up. We think it is inhuman and cruel to evict us from here. The University is supposed to be an educational institution, in sympathy with the arts. Is this the way to show it?"

His wife accused NYU, with its real-estate hunger, of "Hitler-like aggression."

The Hoppers managed to stay on as holdouts, becoming the only remaining tenants in an otherwise empty and desolate building, though NYU continued to harass them.

Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbot photographed Hopper here in 1948, during the eviction tension and the artist's resulting anxiety and depression.

A writer from the Met Museum recounted the story of the photo: "When Abbott arrived at Hopper's studio on Washington Square North, she was intending to use some of his paintings as a background. Instead, Hopper's wife suggested that she pose him in front of the bare, worn walls of the studio itself. In the resulting image, Hopper is an austere, angular figure. At the left stands a potbellied stove in front of a fireplace; at the right, the spokes of Hopper's etching press, which he also used as a makeshift hat rack, intrude into the composition."

Remarkably, the Hopper studio was preserved when NYU turned the building into their renovated school of social work.

At the time, historians were nervous. From the New York Times: "Universities have a reputation for being devious," said Ian Anderson, a Manhattan lawyer and preservationist. "What I want to know is how the studios will be preserved when I was told the building is being totally gutted."

Today, the studio (and its skylight) is now a point of pride for NYU.

They probably don't want you to know this, but you don't have to wait for an official tour from Open House NY or some other organization to get in to see the studio. If you're lucky, and a bit affable, you can charm your way past the guard. If you are neither lucky nor affable, just pretend you're going to visit someone on the fourth floor of the social work school.

There is no lock on the studio door and no guard to guard it.

Some ladies sit at desks by the threshold, doing mundane things like answering telephones and typing letters. It seems ridiculous that they should be here, in this sacred place, where Hopper worked, and where he died--until you think: Hopper enjoyed seeing women at their desks and he most likely would have painted them.

The artist's easel is still here. The one, I assume, that held Nighthawks and so many others. If you look closely, though the easel's wood has been scrubbed clean, you can still see a drop of paint here and there. And when the afternoon is right, the wooden floor glows with a buttery Hopper light.


EV Grieve said...

Despite the years of harassment, I'm happy that NYU didn't turn this into a dorm or something...

I enjoyed Hopper Week.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Had a very nice week trailing after you. Great job!

Lambda Awards Winner 2010/Bisexual Fiction for Holy Communion

the sandwich life said...

absolutely wonderful heart kind broke that you couldn't fine the definitive answer...maybe it's better that way...I don't know. Anyway----just really wonderful. I always love your blog but this was special...

baker said...

Hopper week was awesome! i went to art school in Baltimore and have passed along your Nighthawks research to a number of my old artist friends who so far love all of it! nice work.

Anonymous said...

So, NYU has not changed a bit since 1946 with their real estate hunger.

Anonymous said...

It's great that you are posting all this information on Hopper. His roll as Frank Booth was a character for the ages. He will truly be missed.

Bryan said...

I knew the studio was up there but had no idea it was open to visitors. I also had no idea about the NYU stuff in the 40s.

Great week on JVNY!


Caleo said...

Yeah, I didn't realize NYU has been trying to destroy the city for the better part of 70 years.
At least they're consistent.

Philip Koch said...

Thanks for the story about Bernice Abbot visiting the studio to photograph Hopper. And the accompanying photos are great!