Most people knew the late Dennis Hopper for his acting and directing. During that career he constantly painted, photographed, and befriended well-known artists. A new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles could go a long way toward cementing Hopper’s reputation as an artist.
At an exhibit preview, painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel spoke about Hopper’s voracious consumption of art and ideas.
"I think that Dennis felt so many things, he was a sponge, and he was a conduit for so many things," he said, kneeling in front of the entrance to MOCA's Little Tokyo.
As curator of his friends' work, Schnabel said he approached curating his dead friend's work as an opportunity to paint a portrait of him through the presentation of the art.
"If you look at the first doorway, as you come in and you see this kind white oxidation on this rusty door, it looks like a Sigma Polke. There’s notions of Jasper Johns, there’s a kind of community of images and attitudes and techniques, somebody trying to figure out how to mediate the world somehow by making objects, by making films, by using things that are around them," Schnabel said.
Hopper soaked up the philosophies and styles of pop artists, conceptual artists, and graffiti artists. Their influence is evident in the 200 pieces on display. Schnabel curated the MOCA exhibit during Dennis Hopper’s final illness — the actor died of cancer a month and a half ago.
L.A. art dealer Fred Hoffman represented Hopper and worked on the exhibit. "We’re standing at the front of the exhibition and we’re looking at a piece called La Salsa man, which is a 25-foot-high figure, it’s a recreation of a roadside figure that exists in Malibu right next to the Malibu pier.
These large statues represent the way a multi-faceted man observed popular culture and advertising and turned it into art. It’s the most extensive U.S. museum show of Hopper’s work — and the first exhibit by new MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch.
"This show is not just about Dennis Hopper, it’s about the history of art in Los Angeles, from the mid 50s to the present," Deitch said.