07.12.10

Dennis Hopper's Cinematic Art

Double Standard, a posthumous show of Dennis Hopper’s work curated by Julian Schnabel, pays homage to the actor’s cinematic and artistic career.

Walking into the newest exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, you hear Dennis Hopper before you see him.

The late actor's grisly voice echoes through the gallery, eerily mixed with the angelic opera Lakme. Cineastes will recognize the audio as his iconic scene in True Romance—during which, minutes before he is murdered, Hopper and the actor Christopher Walken share a kiss. The clip, screened in a room of the exhibition, is a piece of a cinematic compilation of Hopper's work edited by his close friend, Julian Schnabel, who curated the MOCA show.

Click here to VIEW IMAGES of the ART and the opening dinner.

Double Standard, which opened Sunday, consists of more than 200 works, and spans Hopper's 60-year career as an artist. It presents the artist in multiple media, in figments both by and about him—from his black-and-white photographs from the 1960s; his mixed-media collages of the '80s; some Warhol- and Rauschenberg-inspired commercial images; and large-scale figurative billboard paintings. The show, which Schnabel organized around Hopper's "creative development," reflects the extent to which the actor was a student of the artists and friends around him for half a century.

According to MOCA's new director, Jeffrey Deitch, the show came together quickly in order to involve Hopper, whose health was failing, in the planning. "Normally an exhibition like this takes a year or so to develop," he said. "But I made the decision to speed it up so that Dennis would be involved in the organization of the show. Unfortunately he didn't make it to see the opening." Hopper died in May. Deitch explains that Hopper helped with the format of the show, the choice of works, the film compilation, and had "total trust in Julian to reflect his vision."

Displayed in the images are Hopper's friends, the artists Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston, whom he photographed in their youth in Los Angeles in 1964. On Saturday night Ruscha and Bengston turned up at the museum to celebrate the opening of the show and remember their old friend. They joined Schnabel, Deitch, hotelier Andre Balazs, L.A. art dealer Fred Hoffman, New York dealer Tony Shafrazi, and stars such as Diane Keaton and Liv Tyler at the Standard Downtown for a dinner following the show. "It was very meaningful to his large circle of friends and admirers that we were able to put this on," Deitch said on Monday.

The show is a walking tour through the Dennis Hopper ecosystem—the films, friends, places and parties that made up his life. At the focal point of the exhibition are his black-and-white photographs from the early to mid-1960s, hung salon-style from floor-to-ceiling. On one wall there is Paul Newman, slouched in the sun; on another is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; there's Jane Fonda in a leopard-print bikini with bow and arrow; on another, Ike and Tina Turner at home. Together, they're a portrait of Hopper—an assortment of memories and places organized around his cinematic and painterly eye.

"When you see the film compilation," Deitch explains, "You can understand that this is not just Dennis Hopper as an artist. It's Dennis Hopper as a painter, Dennis Hopper as a filmmaker, Dennis Hopper as a photographer, Dennis Hopper as an actor." The great glory of it is, of course, that, "It's all one person."

Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast based in Los Angeles.