Edward Hopper is “a really perfect trade-off” for the local Grant Wood pieces loaned to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, said Kate Kunau, associate curator at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
Both were influenced by Impressionism after studying in Paris, but came home to paint the real world of their native regions.
“Edward Hopper: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York” and a companion exhibition, “Hopper’s World: New York, Cape Cod, and Beyond,” will open Saturday in the first floor galleries at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, continuing through May 20.
The Whitney sent nine paintings and four prints from his early career, 1906 to 1933, with interiors and exteriors, rural and urban settings from his native New England and Paris, playing off the deep shadows and affecting use of light. The companion exhibit draws from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s collection of images and places where Hopper lived and worked, from New York to Cape Cod and Maine, as seen through the eyes of other artists.
“Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” will be on view from March 2 to June 10 at the Whitney Museum, in the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. It features 27 Wood pieces from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, as well as other museums and collections.
“We’ve sent some of our most famous paintings, ‘Woman with Plants,’ ‘Young Corn’ and ‘Spring in the Country,’” Kunau said, along with such decorative works as a fire screen, Wood’s whimsical corncob chandelier and his “Lilies of the Alley” found-object sculptures. Other Iowa contributions came from Coe College and the Iowa Masonic Library & Museum in Cedar Rapids, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and the Dubuque Museum of Art. The Whitney also is creating a half-scale model of Wood’s stained glass window designed for the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Cedar Rapids.
The centerpiece of the 120-piece show will be “American Gothic,” on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Both exhibitions are expected to generate excitement and open new windows into the lives and artistry of these 20th century American masters of world renown, whose careers overlapped.
Wood, born Feb. 13, 1891, on a farm near Anamosa, moved to Cedar Rapids at age 10, where he painted “American Gothic” in 1930. After a lifetime of studying, creating, traveling and teaching, he died of pancreatic cancer in Iowa City on Feb. 12, 1942.
Hopper was born into a middle-class family on July 22, 1882, in Nyack, N.Y., a Hudson River town north of New York City. He died May 15, 1967, in his studio near Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. His wife, Josephine, who died 10 months later, bequeathed more than 3,000 of his works to the Whitney Museum.
Hopper “is basically the Grant Wood of the Whitney,” Kunau said. The New York museum holds the world’s largest collection of Hopper works, while the Cedar Rapids museum holds the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood pieces.
“The way Grant Wood is associated with this very distinct version of Americana from the 1930s, Hopper is really associated with that in the 1940s and ’50s,” Kunau said. “And so, where Grant Wood is associated with the rural, Hopper is associated with the urban.
“Like Grant Wood, he captures this idea of America in his art, and his work tends to focus on what he saw as the solitude and isolation of America in the ’40s and ’50s. His most famous painting, ‘Nighthawks’ — which belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago so it will not be coming to visit us — that painting and a lot of his others are about being alone even in a crowd. You can have multiple people in one of his works, although it’s much more common to just have one or two, but they’re not interacting with each other, and so it’s this idea of a national loneliness that he felt pervaded America in the ’40s and ’50s,” Kunau said.
“He has a really distinctive style, again like Grant Wood. It’s kind of hard edged, so it’s a really interesting parallel and it’s honestly a fantastic reciprocal loan for us. It’s very cool that we were able to do this and swap one American master for another.”
Barbara Haskell, curator for the Grant Wood exhibition in New York, said such arrangements are “unusual.”
“It’s a testament to how much of a partner the Cedar Rapids museum was in this project. It would have been impossible to do this show without their help,” Haskell said. “We realize that we’re denuding the gallery that is a star for the museum, and that the collegial thing to do was to send them back something that would be equally appealing to the public.”
She also pointed to the parallels in their work.
“I do think there’s something similar about Hopper and Grant Wood,” Haskell said. “Their art, in both cases, projects a sense of solitude, and in a way, apprehension. There’s a silence in their work that they share, and both of them have spoken on the record that great art comes out of people’s personal experience. Hopper always said when they asked him, ‘What are you getting at,’ he said, ‘I’m trying to get me.’ In a way, Grant Wood is the same. He acknowledged that his art became great when he began to paint his inside, deepest experiences. The end result in both cases is similar. Somebody the other day called Grant Wood ‘an eerie Hopper.’
“It just happened that these two artists who are so appealing to the public share something in common. They both project this kind of 20th century disquiet.”
WHAT: “Edward Hopper: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York” and companion exhibition, “Hopper’s World: New York, Cape Cod, and Beyond”
WHERE: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE
WHEN: Saturday (2/3) to May 20
HOURS: noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
ADMISSION: $7 adults, $6 college students and seniors 62 and over, $3 ages 6 to 18, free under age 6 and museum members
MEMBER RECEPTION: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday (2/2), for museum members
PUBLIC CELEBRATION: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (2/3) and Family Fun Day, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (2/3); free admission all day
RELATED: “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables,” March 2 to June 10, Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., New York; Whitney.org/Exhibitions/GrantWood