David Hockney at The Met

By Peggy Roalf   Tuesday November 21, 2017

David Hockney, without doubt one of the most beloved artists of our time, was joined by a throng of admirers as he previewed the major retrospective of his work yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the year of his 80th birthday, the artist is being celebrated for the wit and intelligence with which he has examined and captured the perceived world of movement, space, and time in two dimensions. On view are iconic works from key moments of his career, from his student days in the 1960s to the present, including his large-scale double portraits of the celebrity friends of his youth; the collaged Polaroids through which he examined new possibilities within Cubism as well as the artistic use of photography; his later forays into painting the landscape on location in his native Yorkshire; and finally, his experimental works using iPad apps.

In the opening gallery are nearly 20 semi-abstract paintings from 1960-66 in London when Hockney was struggling to find his place as a gay artist in a society where homosexuality was still criminalized. Unspoken desire is mixed with confessional graffiti of the toilet wall kind in paintings that owe much to artists on trend at the time, such as R.B. Kitaij and Richard Hamilton, as well as "beefcake" magazines. But when he moved to Los Angeles in 1964, he found liberation, for both his relationships and his artistic vision. The garish colors of the landscape and the poolside paradise he now inhabited prompted him to famously say, “My God, this place needs its Piranesi…so here I am.

© David Hockney, Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy, 1970-1971. Photo © Tate London, 2017

It seems that he left behind everything that stood in the way of a better life, from the dreary climate that inflected the colors on his palette to the paint itself. Adopting acrylics, new at the time, he began to create the brilliant surfaces that characterize his vision of a life lived large, and for pleasure. While it is said that most artists take the weather with them, Hockney has come to personify his liberation through the colors of Southern California, even in his later West Yorkshire landscapes. In addition, his early experiments with Cubism through the Polaroid grids continue to inflect his painterly interests in the landscapes composed of multiple canvases bolted together. Endlessly inventive, his experiments across multiple mediums is balanced by his foundational gifts as a draughtsman, which first took flight in his landmark double portraits, which are accompanied by several of his page-size studies for these paintings, which are roughly ten feet wide.

In her remarks, Sheena Wagstaff, chair of the Met’s modern and contemporary art department, noted that Hockney had mentioned the numerous artists who have influenced him, from Giorgioni, Picasso and Braque to notable American artists. Among the jewel-toned landscapes done in Yorkshire is The Road Across The Wolds, 1997, in which Hockney explored, with rigor and wit, the compositional devices employed by Grant Wood in his aerial perspective paintings from the 1930s. This is one of the many surprises in a show that will offer art history buffs an added spark of recognition.

At the Met, David Hockney is curated by Ian Alteveer, assisted by Meredith Brown on research. The exhibition, in its final stop after being shown at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and The Tate, London opens here on Monday, November 27, with member preview starting today. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, NY, NY. Info Information about related programs, featuring artists and performers including Mickalene Thomas and Alan Cumming, among others, can be found here. Photo above: ©Peggy Roalf for DART


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