‘One of the true icons of American art’: Cedar Rapids is hosting two major exhibitions of Edward Hopper’s artwork

Edward Hopper exhibition

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art — open Feb. 3 to May 20

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Summer Interior, 1909. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 × 29 3/16 in. (61.6 × 74.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1197. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

The paintings of prolific 20th century artists Grant Wood and Edward Hopper served as windows to their home states: Wood, the rolling farmlands and stoic people of Iowa; Hopper, the stark cityscapes and noir characters of New York.

Thanks to a partnership between the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (CRMA) and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Iowans may become better acquainted with Hopper, and New Yorkers with Wood.

CRMA will present the new exhibitions “Edward Hopper: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York” and “Hopper’s World: New York, Cape Cod and Beyond” opening Saturday. Visitors may enjoy the exhibits for free on Saturday.

Whitney Museum representatives began talks with CRMA three years ago to borrow from CRMA’s collection of 300 Grant Wood works for their own planned Wood exhibition. After in-person visits from Whitney curators and hundreds of hours of planning, CRMA agreed to loan 27 Woods in exchange for 13 of the Whitney’s more than 2,500 Hoppers. CRMA has the biggest collection of Woods in the world, while the Whitney is the leading collector of Hoppers.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Night Shadows, 1921. Etching: sheet, 12 × 15 15/16 in. (30.5 × 40.5 cm); plate, 6 7/8 × 8 1/4 in. (17.5 × 21 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1047. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

“Their objective was to tell the story of Grant Wood, and we want it to be as great a Grant Wood exhibition as it can be,” Sean Ulmer, CRMA executive director, said. “We are the largest single lender to the exhibition.”

This hefty exchange had a fairly drastic, but not unwelcome, effect on CRMA’s popular Wood gallery.

“We had to take a number of works we always have on view and replace them with other works from storage,” Ulmer said. “Visitors will see more works and in some ways a very different type of Grant Wood as a result of the loan. It allows us to tell, in some ways, a richer story of his transformation from farm worker to icon.”

Wood and Hopper were contemporaries, reaching prominence in the 1930s and ’40s. Both crafted realist depictions of human, natural and architectural subjects.

Hopper is perhaps best known for “Nighthawks,” an oil painting featuring four figures in a downtown diner at night (The Art Institute of Chicago has been in possession of the painting since its completion in 1942. The institute also houses Wood’s most famous work, “American Gothic.”)

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Cobb’s Barns and Distant Houses, 1930-1933. Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 × 43 1/8 in. (74 × 109.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1206. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

But Hopper didn’t just depict urban scenes. A decade before “Nighthawks,” he released a series of Wood-esque paintings centered around the barn of Maine farmer Burly Cobb. One of these, “Cobb’s Barns and Distant Houses,” is included in the CRMA exhibitions. (President Obama borrowed two other “Cobb’s Barn” paintings from the Whitney in 2014 to decorate the Oval Office.)

All of the nine paintings and four prints loaned to CRMA were released in the first half of Hopper’s career, as early as 1906.

“For people who know Hopper already, this might be a revelation, because it’s earlier work they might not be familiar with,” Ulmer said. “For people who don’t know Hopper, this is a great introduction to see where he evolved from as an artist.”

Hopper’s tenure as a painter, drawer, etcher and print-maker will be further explored in special events. On Thurday, March 8, Associate Curator Kate Kunau is giving the lecture “Edward Hopper: American Master,” looking closely at the 13 pieces and the artist’s singular depictions of solitude and isolation. Kunau will chat about Hopper again for the museum’s March 7 and April 4 “Art Bites” lectures.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Queensborough Bridge, 1913. Oil on canvas, 25 7/8 × 38 1/8 in. (65.7 × 96.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1184. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

Ulmer will hold his own talk, titled “Kindred Spirits,” on April 12, discussing Hopper’s work in the context of Wood and Marvin Cone.

After three years of planning and a smooth delivery, uncrating and hanging process — assisted by Whitney preparers — Ulmer said it was moving to finally see the Hopper works in person.

“It was wonderful. You think you know an artist’s work, but when you’re confronted with it in the flesh and spend time looking at it, there are things in any work of art that reveal themselves slowly,” Ulmer said.

“This is a rare opportunity to see this many Hoppers at one time, outside of a major Hopper retrospective,” he added, noting that even the Whitney rarely has more than a few pieces up at once. “It’s a great opportunity to come and get to know one of the true icons of American art.”

Edward Hopper (1882-1967), American Landscape, 1920. Etching: sheet (irregular), 13 3/8 × 18 1/4 in. (34 × 46.4 cm); plate, 7 5/16 × 12 5/16 in. (18.6 × 31.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 31.690. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

The Whitney partnership is not the first time CRMA has exchanged art with other museums. Notably, in 2011, they temporarily traded Wood works for the Brooklyn Museum’s Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington, painted in 1776.

The Whitney’s exhibition “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” will run from March 2 to June 12. Displayed along with CRMA’s contributions will be the titular “American Gothic,” on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago.

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