Las Vegas, Nevada: Hotel Window
A few things happened before I came out here that seemed portentous. I won three dollars on my home state's lotto. I broke my elbow biking, making me a one-armed bandit. And I traveled on September 15, 2001 on one of the first flights allowed out of Chicago's Midway airport after 9/11. So my experience in Las Vegas was different than most. Conveniently for my tastes and my project, I had the city virtually to myself and mostly locals to interview.
When I pulled up to valet park at Bellagio, an older gentleman with a younger woman got into a low red sportscar whose doors swung open upwards. This was already different than my usual museum visits. I mentioned that I was there to see the Hopper Captain Upton's House, and the ticket-taker beamed, "We actually have two." Sure enough, Martin had acquired Hotel Window since I did my research before traveling. If Vegas is supposed to make your wildest dreams come true, then it worked for me. Hotel Window had come to a city full of hotel windows.
Hotel Window is a classic of a Hopper. A white-haired woman with her hands folded on her lap sits on a stiff blue hotel lobby couch and twists to stare out a fantastically large picture window that looks onto a bleak cityscape. Her long thin face floats in the enormous void of the window. A blue rug takes up much of the painting's lower half and seems to set her adrift on a featureless sea. An electric light on the table beside the couch illuminates two pamphlets--maybe Gideon's Bibles, this being a hotel.
Hopper commented of this painting: "It's no particular hotel lobby, but many times I've walked through the Thirties from Broadway to Fifth Avenue and there are a lot of cheesy hotels in there. That probably suggested it. Lonely? Yes, I guess it's lonelier than I planned it, really."
Jo wrote, "Picture definitely not called: 'Alone in the City at Night.' But why not?" Maybe because the lone preparatory sketch for this painting included a man seated across from the woman.
Steve Martin stated on the taped audio guide (written with help from New York art critic Adam Gopnik): "This is Edward Hopper at his most poetic, but also at his most quietly surreal. … That his pictures still move so many people so deeply suggests that there must be a black hole of loneliness, an echo chamber at the heart of American life, where his images resonate permanently."
The other Hopper was no less typical, though not a gritty urban scene: Captain Upton's House. The painting shows a lighthouse and keeper's house atop a hill of wheat-colored summer grass bathed in sunshine. Steve's narration for Captain Upton's House posited, "Edward Hopper is to American paintings as Robert Frost is to American poetry. … the other side of his vision lay in his admiration for the kind of permanent, weathered, American endurance symbolized here by the house of an old sea captain."
I didn't know why Martin was showing his paintings. Neither did he. "[F]or some reason, it occurred to me it was time to exhibit these few pictures," he wrote, "I can only guess why."
Las Vegas, Nevada: Hotel WindowOK. I had to bend the rules to get Las Vegas into this book. There's no Hopper in a Las Vegas art museum. But a cousin of mine pointed out that there was a show of comedian Steve Martin’s art collection at the Bellagio Hotel here, including two paintings by Edward Hopper. It was the only chance I would have to see them in person. And it gave me a chance to include the city that at the same time both personified and parodied The American Dream: bigger is better, the customer is king, and you too can strike it rich.