Joanne Howard's Dream House

Edward Hopper House
Sep 17, 2014 1:20AM

Edward Hopper House Art Center presents Joanne Howard's exhibition, Dream House, by from August 23 through October 19, 2014.   Howard’s installation is the third exhibition in a new program series for the center, following a 2013 installation by Tony Oursler, a well-known video artist and native of Nyack, that invites artists to respond to the life and work of Edward Hopper in the home in which he grew up.

Howard is best known for her set designs for the company Big Dance Theater. Her first scenic design in 1992 was a set evoking underground space through the use of video and found natural objects. Since then her sets have been an amalgamation of materials that reduce the idea of the program to a singular visual platform.

For the Hopper installation, Howard began by thinking about the space that was left vacant after Hopper’s departure at the age of 84. Thus, the work manifests as an exploration of negative space in the form of portraits, architecture, and drawings.

Howard, also a long time resident of Nyack, has spent 20 years walking by and through the Hopper house. When invited to create an installation for the space, she decided to embrace the house itself rather than troll the publicly saturated and familiar imagery of Hopper’s paintings and drawings. 

Howard admits that she has never been in love with Hopper’s famous works, yet the house itself and the domestic interior of the space in which a young person came into aesthetic being was intriguing. 

Howard has most recently been working with slip cast faces that have a lot to do with hollowness and vacated space. She has also been exploring the details and nuances of interior spaces and how architectural details often reflect human portraiture. In walking through the Hopper house, suddenly the two came together as the outlines of the newels of the staircases reflected facial patterns on the walls. 

“I am interested in the permanence of the inanimate ‘fixtures’ in the house (staircase, newel post) versus the impermanence of human existence,” she says.  “In addition to being a beautiful presence in the entrance of this otherwise rather austere interior, a turned post accentuates the tension between positive and negative space. The curves also take on associations of human physiognomy.”

Self Portrait, an inverted coiled vessel, rotates on a pedestal, creating an optical illusion of a portrait through negative space.  Portrait of Hopper, a slip-cast 3-dimensional collage of clay, unrecognizable as a portrait until one notices the cast shadow, forces the viewer to go back and forth from the object to its cast image.  Both objects conjure a sense of the passage of time, how easy it is to forget the past, but how important the accumulation of experience if one pauses to reflect on a life. 

A brilliant series of upside down cast heads merge a sense of playfulness with the dark and the ubiquity of anonymity.  Self-portraits, these objects bring the exhibition together in a an unusual and unique way that meets the challenge of creating a show within the confines of a set of rules and a space so specific to a man whose name is synonymous with the quintessential everyman.

Joanne Howard received a BFA from Syracuse University School of Visual and Performing Arts and an MFA from Hunter College.  She also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.  She has exhibited throughout the United States and has designed theatre sets around the world, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theater Workshop, NY, The Chocolate Factory, NY, Chaillot Theater, Paris, France, and Les Subsistance, Lyon, France. 

Click here to listen to an AUDIO TOUR of the exhibition with Joanne Howard and Elliott Forrest.

Edward Hopper House