Immersive Art

Spend A Night At A Museum In A Painting Brought To Life

An immersive experience brings Edward Hopper’s classic work to life—ennui and quiet desperation not included.

Spend A Night At A Museum In A Painting Brought To Life
"Edward Hopper
Western Motel, 1957
Oil on canvas
30 5/8 x 50 ½ in. (77.8 x 128.3 cm)
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Bequest of Stephen C. Clarke, B.A. 1903, 1961.18.32
© 2019 Heirs of Joesephine Hopper / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY"

Ever since Ben Stiller’s comedic trilogy, Night At The Museum, people around the world have been wondering what it’s like to, well, spend a night at the museum. Places like the Louvre, and even the titular American Museum of Natural History, have opened up their doors to visitors, allowing them to sleep beneath the watchful gaze of the Mona Lisa and life-sized blue whales alike. 

But there’s always a sense of being little more than a transient visitor: Sure, you might be in the museum after-hours, but you’re no closer to the exhibits than you were during the day.

Enter the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. For a limited time from October 26, the museum will host an exhibition dedicated to Edward Hopper—and to better connect their visitors to Hopper’s works, they will also recreate one of his paintings in three dimensions for guests to sleep in overnight.

A postcard from the real-life Western Motel in Texas, which inspired Edward Hopper’s titular painting (Photo: VMFA)

Hopper may be more familiar to some as the painter behind Nighthawks, which depicts a moody scene of a downtown, midcentury American diner: Some say that Nighthawks remains one of the most recognisable paintings in American art. 

Like Nighthawks, the rest of Hopper’s oeveure drips with loneliness and quiet desperation, all stemming from an increasingly urbanised America in the mid-1900s.

Western Motel—the painting that will be brought to life by the VMFA—is no different. The work depicts a woman alone in a motel room with the vast desert beyond the window. Her gaze is vacant, but affixed on the viewer. 

Hotel Lobby (1943) by Edward Hopper is another example of the artist’s moody depictions of pre-war America (Photo: VMFA)

‘Edward Hopper and the American Hotel’ explores the late artist’s works surrounding America’s pre-war hospitality scene through depictions of motels and other scenes of the time, all served with a generous helping of Hopper’s signature ennui.

Aside from the 60 artworks on display—of which six have never been on display to the public before—the exhibition also includes road-trip diaries written by Hopper’s wife Josephine, who was herself an artist and oftentimes his muse, as well as other Americana, such as motel postcards from places that the couple visited on their journeys.

Hopper, pictured here in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1938 (Photo: VMFA)

Hopper himself had a close relationship with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, having served as chairman of the jury for the museum’s first biennial exhibition in 1938 and returning once more in 1953.

Tickets and more information on the immersive experience will be available on the VMFA’s site later this month. 

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