CARTER FOSTER: Hi. I’m Carter Foster, Steven and Anne Ames Curator of Drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This is a painting called New York Interior by Edward Hopper. He painted this painting with a disembodied eye as if he’s just outside of someone’s window. Hopper spoke very specifically about being inspired by riding through the city on the city’s elevated trains. New York had elevated subway trains for much of its history which have now been dismantled. In riding those trains you could see into people’s windows, and lives, and offices and all kinds of other things. I think that’s what this painting is about. He paints the woman as unaware of the viewer, so you’re almost guilty. It’s not that you’re looking at something you shouldn’t be looking at but he freezes a moment in time that would have been a fleeting moment.
I think one of the most interesting things about it is the way the scene is framed. You see this woman from the back with her hair going down her front so that her shoulders are exposed, so there’s a strong erotic undercurrent to the work. But then if you look at the way it’s framed, you have a dark rectangle on the left, you have irregular shapes on the right that are also equally dark that are ambiguous. They could be inside the room, they could be part of the building’s architecture. That’s what really puts you on the threshold of being inside and outside which is one of the great themes of Hopper’s career, inside and outside at the same time.
NARRATOR: Artist and art critic Brian O’Doherty:
BRIAN O’DOHERTY: We’re looking at New York Interior. He was thirty-nine when he did that. But Hopper lived long and he was a slow starter determined. He was a long-distance runner and he paced himself. New York Interior proves something that he said to me. He said every artist has a core of originality, a core that is himself. And how does that come out in art? It comes out in the format of things. It comes out in the concerns, the themes, and the details of the paintings he does, even when he’s young.
NARRATOR: In New York Interior, as is true in paintings from throughout his career, Hopper offers select details, but ultimately doesn’t reveal who or what we are looking at.
BRIAN O’DOHERTY: But she does seem to be a sort of ballerina or dancer. She’s in a very flouncy dress. But as I look at it further I see that what she’s doing is she’s sewing something on her lap and the hand raised, as you may remember from watching your mother. She’s sewing and in that hand there’s probably—if we could see closely enough—a needle.
Now on the right there is some typical Hopper furniture, a clock—that’s rather unusual; time is present. On the left there’s another picture. And I look at those things and they’re incidentals which gradually tended to be burned away from his art as his vision got purer. But what I do look at as a very powerful thing is that big black vertical on the left which is holding the piece in and is like a kind of exclamation saying, “Look at this picture.”