Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.
Through February 25, $25 suggested admission
There’s something very pure about the paintings of English artist David Hockney, so directly enchanting that Randall Wright’s 2015 documentary about him was simply called Hockney and the Met’s grand retrospective, which closes February 25, is titled David Hockney, no further description needed. I called the film “a wonderful documentary that celebrates not only the artist but his work and process, which comes alive on the screen, digital technology allowing the paintings and photographs to pop with their brilliant colors. If you didn’t appreciate Hockney’s talent before, this documentary will change your mind about it. And if you already were a fan of him and his work, this film will make you love him even more.” The same can be said of the Met show, including the digital aspect; the first major survey of Hockney in New York City in thirty years features the digital triptych “View through the Artist’s Bedroom Window, Bridlington” that reveals the development of a trio of images made on an iPad. Celebrating his eightieth birthday, the show comprises more than eighty painting, drawing, photographs, and video works as Hockney, over the course of nearly sixty years, goes from abstraction to realism, from portraits to landscapes, from 1960’s “Love Painting,” when he was still at the Royal College of Art, to 2017’s “Interior with Blue Terrace and Garden.”
Hockney was born in Bradford, England and has lived on the Yorkshire Coast and in the Hollywood Hills. He still paints every day, with a sparkling control of color, form, and space that instantly engages viewers making their way through the galleries, divided into “Early Works,” “Los Angeles,” “Pair Portraits,” “Sketches & Photocollages,” “Assembled Views,” “Roads & Landscapes,” and “Blue Terraces.” He didn’t hide from his sexual identity in his paintings, even though homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. Many of his classic works are on view: 1967’s “A Bigger Splash,” a spectacularly rendered backyard pool with a small home, part of a diving board, and two tall palm trees set against a blue sky, a bravura example of his use of line and geometric shapes; 1964’s homoerotic “Man in Shower in Beverly Hills”; 1980’s swirling, mazelike “Nichols Canyon”; and 1986’s chromogenic print “Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #1,” which focuses our gaze on the word “stop” three times, an instruction that we, and Hockney, have no intention of obeying.
But the show goes much deeper. “One of the surprises for me is how varying he was,” curator Ian Alteveer says in a Met video. “He, at a very young age, was expressing themes of queerness and of difference and displaying them very proudly in his work.” This is perhaps best exemplified by 1963’s “Domestic Scene,” in which a nearly naked man washes the back of a fully naked man taking a shower in a bucket, and 1960’s “The Third Love Painting,” which includes a large phallic object and a quote from Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard at the Close of the Day,” among other text. Meanwhile, the gems keep coming, from such double portraits as “American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman),” “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy,” “My Parents,” and “Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy” to the Matisse/Picasso-inspired “V.N.” paintings and depictions of the Grand Canyon, art dealer John Kasmin, onetime lover Peter Schlesinger, artist Ron Kitaj, and his longtime manager and former companion Gregory Evans. You’ll leave the show feeling gleeful and chipper, ready to bask in the glow of the world outside while excitedly wondering what Hockney will come up with next.