65 Armonk ... or Not

Armonk, New York: When is a Painting not a Painting?

(When it's in a corporation's collection, it turns out.)

Armonk is another virtually unpopulated town. It doesn't have an art museum. The Hopper painting here hangs in one of the town's many corporate headquarters. Hopper toiled for years illustrating business offices for magazine articles, and (as President Calvin Coolidge famously said) "the business of America is business." I thought it would be interesting to view a Hopper painting in a business setting. The corporation agreed to show it to me, but later asked that I not mention them.

Maybe one effect of American culture being so linked to business culture is that the cult of professional secrecy and suspicion makes individual citizens reticent and isolated--like Hopper characters. It felt ominous to have to pick up a pass at the front gates. Especially when the guard called me by name when I rolled down my car window.

I naïvely assumed that the painting would be in the lobby. It's not. But the staff was gracious about making it available for me. Mary (not her real name), who arranged my viewing, met me in the lobby. She was striking, with graying auburn hair and bright green eyes that rivaled the emerald brooch pinned to a large plaid shawl swirled around her shoulders. She escorted me to a conference room. Inside, a muscle-bound security guard chucked his chin at his younger assistant, saying "I'm not touching it alone," and they rested the painting on a table.

The corporation asked me not to describe the painting. However, I can tell you that Mary observed that (like many of Hopper's paintings) it looked like a still from a film noir. She also identified the sources of light.

"You're a pretty astute observer," I noted.

"I majored in Art at SUNY-Purchase. I couldn't deal with the insecurity of Art, so I ended up getting a degree in something else. I took a totally unrelated job here. But when they found out about my background, they asked me to be in charge of their art collection too." She chuckled, "I ended up working in Art after all."

Back at the lobby, Mary and I parted ways. She headed back to her office, and I headed to my office for that day: Armonk.

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