Los Angeles

Dennis Hopper

Primus-Stuart Galleries

This show of photo-assemblages is a black and white WOW! The unrelenting impact of Hopper’s configurations advance on all levels of consciousness toward the viewer. First they hit visually, then they boomerang back intellectually because the visual associations have scathing social implications and all this while simultaneously provoking emotions ranging from horror to harmony. It is quite an achievement, and since Dennis Hopper is also an actor, perhaps the sensitivity to timing that acting develops is one of the reasons behind the power of these ensembles. For each one is paced so well from photomontage to apparatus, from black cord to vertebra, or Ionic capital to horror photo that one has an uncanny sense of sequence with each article making an appearance without hurrying the next or flubbing its own lines.

Hopper is also able, by contrasting the insubstantial naturalism of photographs with the substantial actuality of objects, to totally re-orient the viewer toward the paraphernalia of these assemblages so that their existence becomes purely symbolic. At least he does this at his best, but “Day of the Dead” is the one exception in the present exhibition. Here the social critic gets the worst of the artist and the work borders on shallow mockery, because Hopper has not been able to metamorphose a religious candlestand into the symbolic context of his assemblage about Mexico and death and Chiclets. The candlestand retains its sacramental character despite the proximity of a Mackintosh Toffee King tin box. Within the obstinacy of this object’s identity the crosses are crucifixes not “X” marks and the artist’s social criticism seems mere finger pointing. In contrast, “Wilhold the Mirror Up” is a multiple pun which retains an esthetic unity. There is a beautiful enlargement of a clinically white male bust with its brain neatly demarcated into zones photographed against a coarse white fabric. Attached at the left of the photo, an open wooden case reveals the actual model showing its other profile which says “Full Range Tranquilizer” while the label in the photo bust is “Outmoding Older Concepts.” Inside the case a broken mirror and tube of Epoxy complete the ingredients. It is only natural for the percipient observer mulling over the implications of this work to question if what will hold the mirror up is not the glue but the tranquilizer and if the mirror so boosted and broken is really our American psyche?

There is also the art-for-art’s-sake Hopper who is capable of such fuguelike harmonies as “Chiaroscuro” where three wooden ovoid shapes in whitish nut colors are suspended over a large photograph of the same man-laid eggs and their shadows which of course are the same shape as the luminous ones being cast that very instant by the sculpture above.

Welcome brave new images!

Rosalind G. Wholden