David Hockney’s Great Yes to Life

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David Hockney:  An Exhibition
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Nov. 20, 2017–Feb. 25, 2018

 

Exhibition Catalog
Chris Stephens & Andrew Wilson, eds.
Tate. 280 pages, $100.

 

DAVID HOCKNEY: An Exhibitionis a global event, and it is the most comprehensive retrospective ever devoted to the eighty-year-old artist’s career. The exhibition is mounted on a grand scale, with more than 250 pieces, ranging from his early sketches made in the 1960s through video installations constructed in 2015. There are previously unseen pieces, but also the works that made him famous—double-portrait paintings, intimate homoerotic shower scenes, L.A. swimming pools, and massive landscapes from the Grand Canyon and Mulholland Drive to the Yorkshire Wolds.

            The exhibition is a collaboration among three institutions: the Tate in Britain, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Met in New York. The Tate announced when the exhibition closed that it had been seen by half a million visitors. There are two exhibition catalogs, one published by the Pompidou, edited by Didier Ottinger, the other by the Tate, edited by Chris Stephens and Andrew Wilson. To coincide with the exhibition, Taschen published David Hockney Sumo, a signed collector’s edition more than two feet wide with a designer bookstand.

            Hockney is best known as a painter, to be sure, but he has also worked as a book illustrator, a photographer, a printmaker, a stage designer, and a videographer. He has experimented with emerging technologies from the Polaroid to the iPad, including innovative video installations projected onto enormous screens conceived as a journey through the four seasons. Hockney’s œuvre is immense, spanning nearly five decades and encompassing hundreds of one-man exhibitions and a hundred books and exhibition catalogs—including Dog Days(1998), a book of paintings and drawings of his dachshunds, and the thoroughly researched Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters(2001). He has been the subject of various documentaries, such as The Illusion of Depth with illusionists Penn and Teller and The Colors of Music, a PBS “American Masters” episode. And, in 2014, he painted BMW Art Car, which is included in the auto manufacturer’s art collection.

            Monumentality defines much of Hockney’s vision: making art on a gigantic scale; a fascination for the spectacular; epic pieces that force the viewer back from the work in order to see it. At the Pompidou, his painting The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011 (twenty eleven)(figure 1), dominated the lobby. The work, which depicts different aspects of spring, is on 32 canvasses and measures twelve by 32 feet. Hockney has gifted the painting, valued at $27 million, to the museum.

Fig. 1: David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011 (twenty eleven)

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Steven F. Dansky has been an activist, documentarian, and writer for more than fifty years.

 

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