You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

venerdì 4 giugno 2010

Edward Hopper and Roscioli

Rome has two blockbuster exhibitions on right now, one featuring long lines, and hellish viewing conditions. That would be the Caravaggio at the Quirinale. The Edward Hopper exhibition, at the Fondazione Roma Museo, is a day at the beach, metaphorically speaking: no long lines, carefully mounted and well-lit works, and a proper amount of visitors.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), born in Nyack, New York, and died in New York City, is little known in this part of the world. The museum web site gushes: “La prima grande mostra di Edward Hopper in Italia arriva a Roma" …/The first big exhibition of Edward Hopper in Italy comes to Rome. It started out in Milan, opened in Rome in the middle of February, and closes soon. The Whitney Studio club sponsored one of Hopper’s first solo shows in 1920. His first major retrospective at the Whitney happened in 1964; it’s only taken Italy 46 years to come ‘round.

Here’s a case where Better late than never applies.

Hopper did come to Europe, but it seems as if he didn’t make it to Italy[1] – a most curious omission, given that ancient Rome, the Italian Renaissance, and the Italian Baroque form a most important tripod in the history of western art. He based himself in Paris in 1906, and traveled to London, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. Two years later, he’s back in Paris, with forays into France and Spain. Many art historians believe that he absorbed the influences of Goya and Rembrandt upon these journeys.
He trained as an artist and illustrator, worked in oil, watercolors, and pen and ink, among other media. His use of color evokes his appreciation for the Fauves and for Matisse, his choice of subject (New York’s Queensborough and Manhattan Bridges, Gloucester, women in hotel rooms, figures in diners) makes him wholly American.[2]

His genius with light, born after attending the Paris Salon in 1906, led him to proclaim: “La luce era diversa da qualsiasi cosa avessi visto prima. Le ombre erano luminose, tutto rifletteva luce. Anche sotto i ponti c’era luminosità."[3] In fact, he himself said: “All I ever wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of houses.” He also said, “If you could say it in words, there’d be no reason to paint.”

It appears that only one of his masterworks can be found outside the United States, and that in Madrid (Collection Thyssen-Bornemisza). If you’re after one-stop Hopper shopping, the Whitney (in New York) has a ton of his stuff (at least 40). But the ones who really win out are those who have a Hopper in their private collections (at least 21)

The exhibition in Rome disappoints. Nighthawks (1942, Art Institute of Chicago) is noticeably absent (though a 3D construction of this has been built; you can walk in, hang at the counter, and have your photo taken, order a cup of nothing). In fact, the show’s remarkably devoid of the big ones, though a couple gems do prevail (like the magnificent and eerie Soir Bleu, 1914, at the Whitney in New York).

Hopper set many of his paintings in food situations (none of which appear in this exhibition). But there’s never any food. Just lonely characters with coffee cups (you have to wonder if they’re half empty). His painting of sunlight in a cafeteria (at New Haven, 1958) shows two figures at separate tables, the woman has a cup of coffee (you should look at this painting and play Aimee Mann’s cover of “One”). Even 1929’s magnificent Chop Suey (private collection) is named for the neon light outside the restaurant where, inside, two women sit at a food-less table.

It made me wonder: putting aside artistic considerations (a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon could, conceivably, clutter up Nighthawks), why weren’t these people eating? Are they too depressed to do so? Have they already eaten? Are they too poor to order anything besides coffee? Are they trying to sober up, say, in Nighthawks?

I was hungry, but fortunately I had somewhere to go, and wouldn’t be alone with a coffee cup: Roscioli, which bills itself as a “Salumeria e vineria con cucina” (delicatessen and wine store with kitchen). The delicatessen part happens in the front. Here a long case teems with a remarkable selection of cheeses from everywhere. A wall lined with gorgeous delectable take-away products (such as truffled things) sits opposite. In the middle, a little wine bar, perfect for a quick glass of wine; in the back, tables for tucking in.

Which is what you want to do there. Lunched there, the guest of the Magnificent Family. We were eight in all, and ordered wildly: creamy burrata with tiny sundried tomatoes (the burrata tasted as if it came from Puglia that very morn, the sundried tomatoes were densely tomato-ish); thinly sliced mortadella with slivers of grana; culatello; caponata e sarde alla siciliana (eggplant salad with balsamic vinegar, capers, and delicately fried, neatly rolled, sardines), meatballs in a vivid tomato sauce (do know that only three meatballs are on the plate, which was a concern of one of the Magnificents; hence, two plates), a mixed salad with mackerel. These to whet the taste buds.
Then to a round of pasta, including three Roman classics: spaghetti cacio e pepe (spaghetti with grated Pecorino Romano and freshly cracked black pepper), spaghetti al tonno (spaghetti with tuna; the only dish that wasn’t Hoovered up), spaghetti carbonara (spaghetti with pancetta, eggs, and black pepper), and rigatoni amatriciana. This last was beyond divine.
It, like the other pasta dishes, is a simple dish, pancetta or guanciale (pork cheek) in a tomato sauce. What set this apart from every other one previously tasted was the quality of the pancetta, served in generously portioned cubes with just enough crunch to set the palate soaring.
This was washed down with a 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from Casanova di Neri. Perhaps those solitary, desolate Hopper figures wouldn’t look quite so striking in their solitude if they were eating at Roscioli.

Edward Hopper, Fondazione Roma Museo, via del Corso 320, 06/6776209, and Closes June 13th.

Roscioli, via dei Giubbonari, 21-22, Rome, 06/6875287, Closes Sundays.

[1] As far as I can tell. Corrections welcomed.
[2] There are no diners in Italy. This is a major tragedy.
[3] “The light was different from what I’d ever seen before. Shadows were luminous, everything reflected light. Even under the bridges was luminous.” This is probably not exactly what he said, as this is a back-to-English translation from an Italian translation of the English. But it comes pretty close. Art Book Hopper, Milano, 2006.

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