New York

Peter Hopkins

American Fine Arts, Co.

The decay of postindustrial Western civilization is the theme of Peter Hopkins’ series, “Capital Projects,” 1989. Random Displacement Site (underpass), a photographic triptych, illustrates the artist’s critical tone. Hopkins presents three views of an abandoned underpass on the site of a former industrial complex. Discarded refuse has accumulated inside the confines of an area surrounded by a wire fence and along the edges of the underpass tunnel. The images document a natural process of change. In this defiled arena, various forces, especially wind, have sculpted an environment. Hopkins, however, demonstrates the disparity between the lasting forces of nature and the entropy that surrounds human creations.

The debris that is scattered across this industrial wasteland has been brought into the gallery and used as a medium for several of Hopkins’ works. In Boxed Pour (underpass), three found boxes containing discarded clothing have been covered with black Spandex and a brown viscous glue. The glue’s weight creates a valley whose flow channels into the dark abyss of the box’s interior and onto the bed of clothing. Rubber Pour (underpass) comprises a dark blue monochromatic painting textured with tracks of poured glue. Its surface bulges from clothing that Hopkins has stuffed behind it. Covered Sights consists of a field of four monochromatic canvases. Each canvas is covered by a rectangular sheet made of artificial fabric––pink taffeta, white nylon, or shiny polyester. The canvases behind these luxuriant facades have been first saturated with muddy fluids, then bleached and preserved under a deep layer of transparent glue.

Hopkins’ recent work elaborates on the concept of site. As in his “sensory” paintings, which employed perfume and high-contrast fluorescent dots, the site remains inside the work of art. It is an affected arena wherein the industrial event occurs. Both his works incorporating saturated material and his photographs represent frozen moments in the decay of an environment. Robert Smithson, whose work is recalled by Hopkins, defined “site” as a physical place characterized by open limits and scattered information. The “nonsite” was defined as the place of closed limits and contained information. But whereas Smithson requested that the viewers of his nonsites convert their information into the real thing by traveling to his sites, Hopkins makes the site itself the work of art, bringing it indoors. In a sense, Hopkins inverts Smithson’s definitions. For Hopkins, the site is the work of art within the gallery; the nonsite is that world which generated the site, but it remains uncodifiable, and ultimately elusive to the gallery viewer.

By presenting industrial themes and crises as works of art, Hopkins offers the viewer a direct confrontation with the corrosive and threatening nature of industrial civilization. Works such as Covered Sites are almost sinister in character. At the same time, their sensuous coloring and elegant construction make them conventionally beautiful. By incorporating the monochrome, they employ the language of High Modernism. However, they are also the product of industrial waste and human negligence and, as such, are harbingers of the possible end of humankind.

––Kirby Gookin