Taaffe’s Tortured Transition; Dennis Hopper’s Pop Art Pics

Harley Baldwin started out in Aspen, Colo., in 1968 with a popcorn wagon and $1,200. He is now the largest real estate taxpayer in the county, owner of the trendy Caribou Club and the Baldwin Gallery. “Bleckner, Baechler, Fischl, Nevelson, Mapple-thorpe and so on,” said Mr. Baldwin of the artists whose works have been displayed at his eponymous gallery, an 8,000-square-foot showplace that started five years ago as a “chance to run a museum and bring some more culture to Aspen.” Mr. Baldwin refuses to mount shows that are “not New York caliber,” he said, and he has been able to get New York artists to produce works especially for his space. But when he was in New York during the first week of May to visit artists’ studios, he learned from Philip Taaffe that the painter would not have a new group of paintings ready for a show scheduled for August.

Mr. Baldwin was, he said, “not happy.”

This is not only an awkward situation for Mr. Baldwin, who will have to scramble to find an artist who has new work ready to fill a major gap in his calendar (August is Aspen’s second season), but it also marks a major change for Mr. Taaffe. A 43-year-old Neo-Geo painter who hit his stride in the late 80’s, Mr. Taaffe was disappointed last year when the patterns for his richly ornamented paintings found their way onto dresses that were designed by the late Gianni Versace. It seems that this has caused a major case of artist’s block. Mr. Taaffe, whose snake paintings were shown at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills last year, gave a fairly cryptic explanation for the delay.

“I just need some more time to do some reorganization,” he said from his apartment on the top floor of a converted schoolhouse in the garment district. “I just need to organize the development of several aspects of the work, and I just wouldn’t be ready in time for that show. It was necessary to reschedule. There is no political dynamic. It is purely logistical.”

Mr. Taaffe’s last New York show was in 1994. He is gearing up for another big show next spring at the Gagosian Gallery on Wooster Street in SoHo. According to Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Taaffe is at a turning point in his career. “I believe he is undergoing a major change in direction as an artist. He is really struggling to find a whole new vocabulary.” Mr. Taaffe would only concede that he “definitely needs more time. It’s all in formation right now.”

What Dennis Hopper Saw at the Scene

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” was all a very somber Dennis Hopper said to the crowd of several hundred art lovers at a benefit for the New Museum of Contemporary Art on May 3, after he was honored for his contributions to the arts. Mr. Hopper, who wore a black Versace suit and sported a goatee, then took his plaque and returned to his seat next to his wife, Victoria Duffy, and art dealer Tony Shafrazi.

“He’s very busy. He’s very bottled up. That’s his nature,” Mr. Shafrazi said when asked about the actor’s extremely short remarks. “He gets a little bit intensely serious on the matter and then it seeps out.”

Mr. Hopper has been on the short list of celebrity initiates into the art world for some time, but recently he has been more present than ever. He has written an essay on Harley-Davidson for a catalogue that will accompany The Art of the Motorcycle , an exhibition opening June 26 at the Guggenheim Museum uptown. He hosted CNN viewers on a tour through the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new galleries in March. And, with Mr. Shafrazi, he is working on a retrospective of all of his artwork and movies for an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam and a definitive catalogue of his photographs from 1961 to 1967.

“I started taking photographs when I was in high school,” Mr. Hopper explained in a quiet moment before the New Museum dinner at the soon to be opened Cipriani Wall Street hotel and restaurant at 55 Wall Street. “Then when I got to Los Angeles, I started doing films when I was 18. My serious work was from 1961 to 1967. I had a bunch of black-and-white photographs of a lot of the artists like Andy Warhol and Rauschenberg and Oldenburg and Rosenquist and most of the Pop artists. Kienholz.

“I was having trouble acting at that time. I wasn’t getting work, I was considered difficult. And I felt that I was doing something that would be historically important. I didn’t view photography as a hobby. I was always serious about it. I started writing Easy Rider in 1967, and that was the end of my photographs. I couldn’t act and direct a movie and carry a camera.”

“I was in the Cartier-Bresson kind of area. I saw the [Cartier-Bresson show] The Decisive Moment when I was in high school in 1951 or 1952, and it really changed my ideas about everything–that there was a moment when you take a still, that you could capture that moment on film. I did a lot of Cartier-Bresson kind of things of hiding and getting the composition somewhere and waiting for something to happen, or trying to catch that moment on film. Then when I became an actor at 18 and went under contract with Warner Brothers, I realized that you couldn’t crop movie film. So I wanted to be a director. So I started composing in the camera so I never cropped any of my photographs; I composed them all in camera. And then I started doing walls early on in the 1950’s, shooting flat on. I started doing it and then I saw a few photographs by Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, which encouraged me. I saw photographs of what they were doing, that kind of work, too. So I continued on doing it.

“Then when I ran into the artists and started hanging out in the art galleries, they started coming to me and asking me to photograph them. So I started photographing the artists on that level. I did Ed Ruscha’s first announcement for his show at the Ferris Gallery, and I did a lot of announcements for people, took them places and photographed.”

Did he ever consider leaving acting for photography?

“I’d be a very hungry person because it costs me a lot more to do it than I have ever made from it.”

Michael Stipe’s Pictures: Worth 50 Words

At the opening of his first show of photographs on May 5, Michael Stipe, dressed in black combat boots and blue eye liner, explained that he has always taken photographs, but that the idea for the exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery on East 57th Street, which accompanies a book, Two Times Intro: On the Road With Patti Smith , happened without any forethought.

“I went on tour with Patti Smith and brought my camera along. The pictures came out really good, so someone presented an opportunity for me to make a book, and I thought this would be an appropriate subject matter. I have been photographing since I was 15. The music overwhelmed me for a while there.”