Den­nis Hop­per Ex­hibit

Movie star Den­nis Hop­per cap­tured 1960s cul­ture and pol­i­tics as a pho­tog­ra­pher

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Su­san Dunne | sdunne@courant.com

The ac­tor's pho­tos are at the New Bri­tain Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art.

By the time Den­nis Hop­per shot to in­ter­na­tional su­per star­dom in “Easy Rider” in 1969, he had been a busy but rel­a­tively un­known film ac­tor for 15 years.

One of his friends was James Dean, who he acted with in “Rebel With­out a Cause” and “Gi­ant.” Hop­per men­tioned to Dean that he wanted to di­rect films some­day and Dean ad­vised him to take up pho­tog­ra­phy to train his eye.

Years later, Brooke Hay­ward, who would be­come his first wife, gave Hop­per a cam­era, and Hop­per took Dean’s sug­ges­tion. He got the nick­name “The Tourist” be­cause he took his cam­era ev­ery­where — onto movie sets, into art gal­leries, onto the streets, to protest marches, ri­ots, “love-ins” and bull­fights — tak­ing pic­tures of friends, strangers, some­times just shad­ows or shapes or a TV screen.

An ex­hibit of Hop­per’s black-and-white pho­to­graphs — 453 in all, taken be­tween 1961 and 1967 — is up at New Bri­tain Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art. The show was cu­rated by Hop­per him­self in 1970, when it was pre­sented at the Fort Worth Mu­seum of Art.

Hop­per died in 2010, but NBMAA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Min Jung Kim placed all of the small-scale prints from the Fort Worth show ex­actly as they were placed on the walls there.

“It’s ar­ranged in a lin­ear fash­ion, like film­strips or sto­ry­boards,” Kim says.

The show is called “The Lost Al­bum” be­cause af­ter the Fort Worth ex­hibit, the pho­tos went into boxes and were stashed in Hop­per’s at­tic. They stayed there un­til af­ter he died. His daugh­ter Marin found them while look­ing for some­thing else. The show has made a few stops in Europe, but the NBMAA ex­hibit is the first time since 1970 that “The Lost Al­bum” has been shown in a U.S. mu­seum.

“What it re­ally com­prises is a por­trait of an era, a time cap­sule into the 1960s, an in­cred­i­bly tur­bu­lent but hope­ful time,” Kim says. “He took pic­tures of the coun­ter­cul­ture, artist friends, pop-cul­ture icons, bik­ers, trips to Mex­ico, the Civil Rights move­ment. He fol­lowed Martin Luther King from Selma to Mont­gomery. He rec­og­nized the im­por­tance and sig­nif­i­cance of what he cap­tured.”

The ex­hibit has sim­i­lar­i­ties to “Cal­i­for­nia Dream­ing,” which was ex­hib­ited at NBMAA last year. Hop­per – a life­long art afi­cionado and col­lec­tor – was a reg­u­lar at Los An­ge­les’ Ferus Gallery, which was the fo­cus of “Cal­i­for­nia Dream­ing.”

“This show is dif­fer­ent but it is a con­tin­ued ex­am­i­na­tion that be­gan with ‘Cal­i­for­nia Dream­ing’,” Kim says.

Hop­per’s pho­tos of his friends and col­leagues — in­clud­ing John Wayne on the set of “The Sons of Katie El­der,” Harry Dean Stan­ton on the set of “Cool Hand Luke,” Paul Newman, Jane Fonda and leg­endary rock bands in­clud­ing Jef­fer­son Air­plane, Lovin’ Spoon­ful and Buf­falo Spring­field — place him in the cen­ter of en­ter­tain­ment-in­dus­try so­cial life.

Like­wise, his images of art-world lu­mi­nar­ies Roy Licht­en­stein, Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, Ed Ruscha and gal­lerists il­lus­trate Hop­per’s early ap­pre­ci­a­tion for, and par­tic­i­pa­tion in, the bur­geon­ing L.A. art scene, both the black-tie galas and the dump­ster-div­ing for work­ing ma­te­ri­als.

But it is the pho­tos of the un­knowns Hop­per en­coun­tered along life’s way that are the most fas­ci­nat­ing. We don’t know any­thing about these peo­ple ex­cept what Hop­per cap­tured, and we want to know more:

• How do those lit­tle black girls, pho­tographed on a trash-strewn street, feel about hav­ing only a white doll to play with?

• Do you have to wear flow­ers in your hair to be con­sid­ered a flower child, or is the girl in the Chi­nese head­dress a flower child, too?

• Do all 13 of those peo­ple hang­ing around on a porch live in that teeny house?

• Those po­lit­i­cally en­gaged kids, march­ing for vot­ing rights, what kind of lives did they have?

One can’t help but wonder what was go­ing through Hop­per’s mind when he shot his pho­to­graphs of Hell’s An­gels, on their bikes, loung­ing around, with their girl­friends. Were the seeds of “Easy Rider” planted by his in­ter­ac­tions with the bik­ers?

The most overtly artis­tic seg­ment is Hop­per’s “ur­ban ex­pres­sion­ism” pieces. The se­ries of close-up cap­tures of typ­i­cal city street scenes take on the qual­i­ties of ab­strac­tion or even sur­re­al­ism, as in the shot of a build­ing, with re­flec­tions of peo­ple hov­er­ing in the air, like ghosts.

The only el­e­ment to the ex­hibit that is less than com­pelling is the seg­ment fo­cus­ing on bull­fights in Ti­juana. Hop­per’s pho­tos of weak­ened bulls speared by mul­ti­ple ban­der­il­las, and other pho­tos in which the bull’s back is slick with mois­ture, pre­sum­ably blood, are sick­en­ing.

DEN­NIS HOP­PER: THE LOST

AL­BUM is at New Bri­tain Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, 56 Lex­ing­ton St., un­til Jan. 27. nbmaa.org.

DEN­NIS HOP­PER, COUR­TESY THE HOP­PER ART TRUST

“Ike and Tina Turner,” 1965, gelatin-sil­ver vin­tage print.

“Paul Newman,” 1964, vin­tage print.

“Biker,” 1961, vin­tage print.

DEN­NIS HOP­PER, COUR­TESY THE HOP­PER ART TRUST

Den­nis Hop­per, "Dou­ble Stan­dard," 1961, gelatin-sil­ver vin­tage print.

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