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 buddies—his Taos posse, if you will—including 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 photographs—points 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 Corbett—adjacent to the Hopper hullaballoo—ends on June 8. The Corbett show? That’s really worth fussing over.