“Dennis Hopper & The New Hollywood” is an exhibition of over 230 works including film clips, stills, photography, painting, installation and mixed media. Comprised of Hopper's own work as well as material from his personal collection including Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat and by artists who have used him as their subject such as “new expressionists” Julian Schnabel and Andy Warhol the exhibition is a major coup for fans.
Originally conceived and mounted by the Cinémathèque Française in Paris last year, the show has travelled to us intact with site-specific inclusions from Philippe Mora's Mad Dog Morgan (Australia, 1976) and David Elfick's documentary To Shoot a Mad Dog, as well as additional international loans and a series of 1990s polaroids never before exhibited.
The exhibition is both bittersweet and glorious. There is a haunting sadness to the show following the news that Hopper is fighting prostate cancer. He was to travel to Australia to open the exhibition and to host a series of master classes but has instead sends us all a message saying that he is “honoured to look back at his life” via the people and the events that shaped it.
Given the circumstances it is surreal to see the first work, an original video installation commissioned by the artistic associate, Cinémathèque Française Matthieu Orlean called 'I, Remember'. It is essentially a one take interview with Hopper at his Los Angeles home intercut with footage from historical events that Hopper has witnessed over the decades and people he has met. Footage of The Black Panthers, John Cassavetes' Shadows and the Fondas are edited as a split screen loop while Hopper reminisces. The work perfectly contextualises Hopper's ongoing creativity and passion spanning more than four decades.
Cinémathèque Française's Matthieu Orlean spent two years conceiving and creating the show and travelled three times to Los Angeles to thoroughly excavate Hopper's expansive collection. He says that while Hopper “sees himself as a curator of his own work” the fact that no one had ever mixed “all his influences in one show before — his career as an actor, a collector and an artist” was the reason Hopper relinquished control. As Orlean sees it, working with Hopper was highly “participatory”. As a result, despite its vast expanse, it is a highly intimate show.
Hopper has been an artist for as long as he's been an actor. He started taking photos while studying method acting with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and his work has appeared in Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and on the cover of Art Form. The exhibition showcases his photographs as well as exploring juxtapositions between art forms, as Orlean is particularly keen to point out. Screen tests taken by Andy Warhol at 'The Factory' are positioned next to two screen prints of the actor/director by the pop artist in the 1970s. An LED installation by American artist, Jenny Holzer is placed opposite a clip from Catchfire (1990) where her work is referenced. A clip from Hopper's film Colors (1988) is screened next to a series of work he did in 1992 that uses images from the film as their inspiration.
Other gems include the original shooting script of East Rider (1969). Clips of everything from Cool Hand Luke (1967), Blue Velvet (1986) to The Last Movie (1971) – Hopper's Venice Film Festival CIDALC award winning feature film and it's accompanying documentary, The American Dreamer (1971); stills from his films, including Rebel without a Cause (1955) and photos of Hopper, Natalie Wood and their siblings attending the premiere of Giant (1956) and a significant stable from beat-artist Bruce Connor whose style inspired the frenzied montage sequences in Easy Rider.
The exhibition is on display in Melbourne until April 25.