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The Art Institute of Chicago; Friends of American Art Collection

10 Artists Influenced by Edward Hopper's Nighthawks

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The Art Institute of Chicago; Friends of American Art Collection

If the old saying is right, and imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Edward Hopper just may be the most adulated artist of all time. And Nighthawks, his 1942 painting of a desolate late-night diner, is his magnum opus. 

In addition to being one of the American art world’s most recognizable masterpieces, Nighthawks is also one of its most imitated. From art to film to music to poetry, Hopper’s ode to loneliness has been honored, copied, satirized, and analyzed for more than 70 years. As New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art readies “Hopper Drawing”—the first major exhibition to highlight Hopper’s creative process, including a film series of the movies that inspired the realist’s work—we’re taking a look at 10 artists who have paid tribute to Hopper’s best-known painting in their own work. 

1. George Segal, The Diner (1964-1966)

Image courtesy Walker Art Center

Pop artist George Segal adapted the same process used to make orthopedic casts to create his life-sized tableaus, which he called “situation sculptures.” In the case of The Diner, completed in 1966, he used salvaged parts of a real diner to create a Nighthawks-esque sense of isolation

2. Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)

The title, album cover, and lyrics of Tom Waits’ first live album are all Hopper-inspired. Its working title, Nighthawk Postcards from Easy Street, was changed to reflect the opening line to “Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson),” the third song on the album.

3. Dario Argento, Deep Red (1976)

So frequently have filmmakers attempted to give character to Hopper’s famous diner scene that it’s actually considered a television trope—called the “Nighthawks Shot”—with its own listing on TVTropes.org. Italian master of horror Dario Argento went there in 1976, when he re-created the diner and its patrons as a set for the giallo film Deep Red.

4. Ralph Goings, Tiled Lunch Counter (1979)

Image courtesy RalphGoings.com

Tiled Lunch Counter is just one of many diner scenes painted by 85-year-old photorealist Ralph Goings, whose work takes a brighter approach than Hopper in its lighting scheme but evokes a similar sense of alienation.

5. Herbert Ross, Pennies from Heaven (1981)

Five years after Argento did it, director Herbert Ross created a replica of Hopper’s diner for the musical Pennies from Heaven, starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.

6. Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (1982)

Though futuristic in its content and set design, director Ridley Scott cites Nighthawks as a major influence on the look of Blade Runner. In Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, Scott notes, “I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after.”

7. Gottfried Helnwein, Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1984)

Image courtesy Life? Seriously. Funny!

In 1984, Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein told his own pop culture-inspired version of Nighthawks when he painted Boulevard of Broken Dreams , an almost exact replica of Hopper’s original painting, with the former patrons replaced by James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe, who are being served by Elvis Presley. (Helnwein’s work, in turn, inspired the Green Day song of the same name.)

8. Joyce Carol Oates' Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, 1942 (1997)

Only Hopper himself knows for sure what the characters in Nighthawks are thinking about. But Joyce Carol Oates tried imagining those interior monologues in her poem, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, 1942, focusing mainly on the painting’s sole female. It begins:

The three men are fully clothed, long sleeves,
even hats, though it’s indoors, and brightly lit,
and there’s a woman. The woman is wearing
a short-sleeved red dress cut to expose her arms,
a curve of her creamy chest; she’s contemplating
a cigarette in her right hand, thinking that
her companion has finally left his wife but
can she trust him?

In 2001, Oates revisited Hopper with the essay Nighthawk: A Memoir of Lost Time.

9. Wim Wenders, The End of Violence (1997)

Perhaps Wim Wenders summed up the fascination filmmakers have with Hopper when he told Smithsonian Magazine it’s because, “You can always tell where the camera is.” In 1997, he was yet another director to re-create Hopper’s unnamed diner for a film-within-a-film in The End of Violence.

10. Banksy, Nighthawks (2005)

Image courtesy iCanvas ART

Legendary street artist Banksy added his own bit of fun to Hopper’s painting with his 2005 parody, in which a shirtless soccer hooligan smashes the diner’s window in a drunken stupor.

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Berlin Is Now Home to the World's Largest Street Art Museum
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With vibrant murals and colorfully tagged buildings and alleyways, Berlin is internationally famous for its street art scene. Now, the German city is home to a new museum that celebrates urban visual works from around the world, according to Deutsche Welle.

Billed as the largest of its kind, the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art made its grand public debut in mid-September, complete with a street festival that allowed visitors to tag a community wall. The five-story museum is housed in a converted late 19th-century house in Berlin's Schöneberg district, with a façade that's covered in a rotating assortment of murals. Its collections include between 100 and 150 international and local artists, including big names like Shepard Fairey and Banksy.

"Except for two or three historical pieces from the collection that must be shown simply because they are important for the development of the scene, all exhibits were specially created for the museum—all by artists who started on the street and continue to work there," Yasha Young, the museum's artistic director, told Deutsche Welle.

The Museum for Urban Contemporary Art's opening exhibition includes portraits, pop art, and socially conscious works, and serves as an introduction to urban art. Other attractions include a library stocked with street art photographer Martha Cooper's collection of books and magazines, and a central staircase adorned with British street artist Ben Eine's signature colored letters, according to the AP.

Some purists might argue that street art belongs on, well, the streets, instead of inside a museum. That said, the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art appears to be committed to keeping the art form's democratic spirit alive. Artists will be routinely invited to create art on the museum's exterior, special grant programs will provide practicing artists and curators funded opportunities to hone their vision, and the central exhibition space changes every year to highlight different movements and talents. The museum also plans to host workshops, live performances, and art shows.

Plus, some might say that a museum dedicated to graffiti and street art—an overlooked niche that galvanized greats like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring—is long overdue.

According to BBC News, British street artist Louis Masai shared this at the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art's opening: "It means that the artists who have been a part of this scene and movement for a long time are now getting the respect that they deserve."

[h/t Deutsche Welle]

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Brigido Lara, the Artist Whose Pre-Columbian Fakes Fooled Museums Around the World
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In July 1974, Mexican authorities sent a man named Brigido Lara to jail. His crime wasn't a violent one, but it was serious nonetheless: Archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), a Mexican federal government bureau devoted to preserving the nation's heritage, claimed that Lara had been found with ancient ceramic artifacts looted from archeological sites in the state of Veracruz.

Lara was convicted of stealing and smuggling antiquities, but he insisted he wasn't a thief—and he could prove it. All he needed were tools and some clay brought to his jail cell. 

FORGING A CAREER

Lara grew up in Veracruz, in the village of Tlalixcoyán. While his parents were peasant farmers, Lara showed artistic talent—specifically, a knack for creating figurines from clay. Veracruz is home to many archaeological sites that date back to hundreds and thousands of years before the arrival of before Christopher Columbus, and the young Lara would often find ancient terra-cotta figurines in the fields and near rivers. He claims that by the time he was 9 years old, he was making versions of these artifacts using clay harvested from a local stream.

As Lara grew older, his skill set expanded. He reportedly taught himself how to prep and oven-fire local clay, and began making objects that mimicked those of several ancient Mesoamerican cultures—imitation Olmec pots, Maya polychrome vessels, and figurines in the Aztec, Mayan, and Totonac styles. He began specializing in replicating works by the Totonacs, a culture that flourished in central Veracruz until the Spanish Conquest introduced diseases that ravaged the communities. These figurines ranged in size from large to tiny, and often depicted mythological gods wearing masks and headdresses.

It's not entirely clear whether Lara began making these figurines for fun or profit. But according to the man himself, traveling dry-goods merchants had noticed his talents before he had even reached his teens. They accepted his "interpretations," as he called his early work, in lieu of cash—then sold them on the black market. Looters also came to Lara, asking him to fix and restore stolen works. Eventually, the artist wound up working in a Mexico City atelier that produced forgeries.

No detail was too tiny for Lara. He visited archaeological sites to study just-dug-up artifacts, and harvested clay from the surrounding region to sculpt exact likenesses. He later told Connoisseur magazine that for true authenticity, he even crafted his own primitive tools and stockpiled 32 grades of cinnabar—a reddish form of mercury used by the Olmec, an ancient Mesoamerican civilization that existed between 1200 BCE and 400 BCE—for precise pigmentation. He finished his works with a ancient-looking patina made from cement, lime, hot sugar water, urine, and other ingredients, and coated the final products with a seal made from dirt and glue.

But even though Lara was a stickler for the details, he also took artistic liberties with some of his "interpretations," adding elements that wouldn't have appeared on the original artifacts. Sometimes he would include a fanciful new detail from his imagination: a winged headdress, or one that writhed with serpents; a duck-billed mask, or a dramatic, lifelike pose.

Lara didn't consider himself a forger. "My style was born with me," he told The New York Times in 1987. "I didn't learn from anyone. I studied the pre-Columbian pieces in my town that came from the burial mounds, and I used the ancient techniques. I made these pieces and I am very proud."

But by young adulthood, he'd also become a businessman, selling his unsigned pre-Columbian replicas to middlemen who re-sold them to illegal art collectors both domestically and abroad. "I was aware that many buyers then sold them as authentic pre-Hispanic works," Lara admitted to Art & Antiques magazine years later.

COMING CLEAN

Lara's forgery career may have continued undetected had he and four of his buyers not been apprehended in 1974 and charged with trafficking in pre-Columbian works. The police didn't consider Lara an artist or a forger—his works looked so real, the authorities thought they'd been dug right out of the ground.

Lara was sentenced to 10 years in jail. To regain his freedom, he devised a plan: He asked law enforcement officials to grant his lawyer permission to bring him clay and art tools. Right there in his cell, Lara created replicas of the antiques he'd reportedly stolen. Experts from the INAH examined the earthen artworks, and declared them "genuine" ancient artifacts.

The stunt worked. Lara had proven he had made the works himself, not smuggled them out of ancient sites. Finally convinced of his innocence, prison officials released him in January 1975 after he'd served only seven months of his sentence.

After his release, Alfonso Medellín Zenil, head of the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, offered Lara a job. "Our policy is, when you can't beat them, hire them," Fernando Winfield Capitaine, then the museum's director, joked to Connoisseur.

The Museo de Antropología is home to an extensive collection of artifacts from Mexico's Gulf Coast produced by ancient indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, the Huastec, and the Totonac. Lara was hired to restore these works as well as to make replicas for the museum's gift shop.

But his career as a forger wasn't behind him quite yet.

REVELATIONS AND REFLECTIONS

In the early 1980s, Veracruz governor Agustín Acosta Lagunes began repatriating pre-Columbian works from abroad, expanding the collections at the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa. But when Lara saw some of these imported works, which had been purchased at Sotheby's auction house in New York City, he pronounced them fakes. He knew, he said, because he'd made many of them—including a figure of a male dancer that had been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History’s “Ancient Art of Veracruz” exhibit in 1971.

Little by little, it emerged that Lara’s works might have made their way into pre-Columbian art collections around the world, including in prestigious museums such as the Dallas Museum of Art and the Saint Louis Art Museum, as well as in renowned private collections. Lara claimed credit for a 3-foot statue of the Mexican wind god Ehecatl in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and out of approximately 150 works on display in the "Ancient Art of Veracruz" exhibit, asserted that he had made about a dozen.

Among the most notorious fakes Lara claimed to have created were three life-size ceramic sculptures in the Dallas Museum of Art that had once belonged to film director John Huston. "If you look at them closely, they are copies," Lara told the Associated Press in 1987. The works were attributed to the Totonac, and thought to have been made between 600 to 900 CE. Lara, however, claimed to have produced them during the 1950s: "The details are different than the originals … the details in the breast decorations, in the shoulder patches and so on," he said. "They are very different. They are originals of course—my own."

As news spread about Lara’s forgeries, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Met in New York City, and the Dallas Museum of Art responded to the controversy by taking works off display. "All three museums acknowledged that many of the Veracruz-style objects in their collections were problematic," Matthew H. Robb, a former curator at the Saint Louis Art Museum who is now chief curator at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, tells Mental Floss.

Nobody knows exactly how Lara’s creations made their way into American museums (Lara blamed various high-profile art traffickers and dealers), but experts say they noticed when suspicious artifacts resembling his work first began popping up in the 1950s, as pre-Columbian art was becoming more and more popular among American art collectors. "They appeared out of nowhere, resembling nothing previously excavated," Edmund Carpenter, a New York archeologist, told The New York Times. "I saw some in New York, Los Angeles, Paris. Museums bought them, big collectors bought them. But nobody asked, 'How come a big find like this?'"

Bryan Just, a curator and lecturer on pre-Columbian art at the Princeton University Art Museum, chalks the phenomena up to scholarly ignorance. At the time, "there wasn't a lot of material available for comparison," he tells Mental Floss. "There are many regions, including Veracruz … where not a whole lot of archeology had been done. So for a lot of these [new] artworks, there weren't great sources to reference that answered questions like, 'How should this stuff really look?' And at that time, what had been excavated may not have been published."

There was also a shortage of experts to consult because the very idea of pre-Columbian relics as art was still relatively new. Connoisseurs only began collecting and selling these works in the early 20th century, and university scholars didn’t begin offering pre-Columbian art history courses until the 1950s, according to Just.

Not that collectors were necessarily consulting scholars in the first place: "If you were considering work that was offered to you by a dealer, you may have not wanted to consult a colleague who's an expert in that particular area if they work at a collecting institution," Just says. "You know, out of concern that they might snag it up before you do."

Fortunately, modern scholars have access to a greater body of knowledge about pre-Columbian art than their predecessors. "In retrospect, when I see Lara's stuff now, it seems pretty obvious to me that it's wrong," Just says. "It doesn't make sense when you think about it in terms of the broader context of what we know about these particular traditions."

But even today, it isn't always easy to ascertain what's real and what's not when it comes to pre-Columbian art. Experts sometimes use thermoluminescence tests, which involve removing a tiny piece of the object, grinding it up, heating it in a furnace, and observing how much light it emits. Ideally, this process can measure how long ago the clay was fired, but the results can be skewed if a work was recently exposed to extreme heat or had been cleaned.

Another issue is that "lots of these complicated ceramic sculptures are pastiches," Victoria Lyall, a curator of pre-Columbian art at the Denver Art Museum, tells Mental Floss. Artists "will use bits of older sculptures and put them back together. So you have to test a lot of different spots to really get a better sense of whether the entire piece is fake."

X-rays are a good way to spot a composite, but they interfere with thermoluminescence test results, putting conservationists between a rock and a hard place. Furthermore, clays from certain regions—like the clay Lara worked with in Veracruz—reportedly aren't as conducive to thermoluminescence testing.

A LEGACY OF LIES

Lara is now in his mid-70s. He no longer restores antiques at the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa full-time, but he still works as a consultant there, and he continues to make art under his own name. However, his legacy will forever be tied with the difficult history of pre-Columbian artwork. According to experts, it's possible that his artworks are still masquerading as artifacts around the world, and that he may have even helped shape modern scholars' perception of pre-Columbian art from Veracruz.

However, it's also feasible that Lara's stories are a composite of fact and fiction—just like his work. The artist claims to have made thousands of forgeries (one estimate places the number at more than 40,000 pieces), but some experts say it would have been nearly impossible for Lara—who was only in his 30s when he was arrested—to have produced so many works in just a few decades.

Plus, the timelines don't always add up: Lara "was about 8 years old at the time that the [Ehecatl statue] was supposedly manufactured and purchased by the Met," Lyall says.

Lara also claims to have been self-taught, but some have speculated that he's stretched the truth about his natural talent. He may have instead learned his trade by apprenticing at a young age in a Veracruz workshop that specialized in forgeries, theorizes Jesse Lerner, a professor of media studies at Pitzer College. Lara "denies all that, but it's hard to know … Just by the nature of his business, it's kind of shady," Lerner tells Mental Floss. (Lerner's 1999 documentary Ruins—a look at the history of Mexican archeology and the traffic in fakes—features an interview with Lara.)

This workshop might have sold both Lara's wares and similar works to international collectors through an established underground market. Such a scenario would explain the artist's familiarity with pieces in faraway collections, like the Met's statue, which he could describe in great detail despite likely having never produced it with his own hands. Because forgeries aren't exactly signed, it's difficult to know for sure which pieces are Lara's and which may have been made by other forgers.

Either way, Lara's frauds are a reminder to avoid believing everything you read—even if it's a label in a museum. And they offer another lesson, too.

"The types of ancient works that Lara and other forgers were imitating, they weren't intended as aesthetic objects," Lerner says. "They weren't for museums. They were representations of this whole world view of cosmic forces."

That makes forgeries like Lara's particularly problematic. "If the only way we can access that worldview is through these objects that survive, [Lara] is just adding bad data to the pool of data that we have available. He's messing up everyone's understanding of who these figures are representing, and how their universe was understood and functioned."

In other words, sometimes fakes don't just fool art lovers—they can also change our understanding of history.

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