Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche

Gordon Theisen, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $24.95 (243p) ISBN 978-0-312-33342-3

Hopper's Nighthawks is one of the most iconic images in 20th-century art, but Theisen's analysis of the "desolate, alien, denatured, perverse, [and] desperate" masterpiece is too facile to support all the cultural weight he wants to place upon it. The interpretations veer between the obvious (he characterizes the urban setting as representing an absence of nature) and the bizarre (he imagines the painting's four figures engaging in group sex). Some sections add flashes of insight—like a discussion of Hopper's familiarity with commercial illustration that segues into the influence of Warhol's Pop—but in trying to make Hopper resonate with everything from cool jazz to Robert Crumb's underground comics, Theisen overreaches and occasionally stumbles. Discussing film noir, for example, he dwells on the "movie screen–like proportions" of Nighthawks, although Hopper completed the painting a decade before the introduction of wide-screen projection. At times, the fledgling critic can't seem to make up his mind: is the uniform menu of the diner supposed to be depersonalizing, as he suggests in one chapter, or subversively democratic? As Theisen meanders through his checklist of cultural pessimism, some readers may conclude that Nighthawks is better off letting its powerful imagery speak for itself. 8-page color insert. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4299-0948-8
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