MAN IN A MUSEUM (OR YOU'RE IN THE WRONG MOVIE) 1962
David Hockney (1937 – )
- 147.3 X 152.4 CM
- OIL ON CANVAS
- Accession number
David Hockney had just graduated from the Royal College of Art, and was enjoying a new wave of confidence; it was at this time, he felt, ‘I became aware as an artist.’(1) That summer, in an article for Ark, the RCA journal, Dick Smith remarked, ‘Hockney as a per¬sonality is bound up with his paintings. The paintings serve as letters, or diary jottings or mementoes; the figures are portraits; events portrayed did happen.’(2) Meanwhile, Hockney was en route to Italy with his friend, Jeff Goodman, when just such an event gave rise to the seminal sequence of paintings among which the present piece is counted. On a visit to the Pergamon, Berlin, they got separated. Hockney recalls, ‘Suddenly I caught sight of him standing next to an Egyptian sculpted figure, unconcerned about it because he was studying something on the wall. Both figures were looking the same way, and it amused me that in my first glimpse of them they looked united.’(3) Drawings made back in the hotel room served as the basis for The First Marriage(4) and Picture Emphasizing Stillness,(5) as well as Man in a Museum (or You are in the Wrong Movie).
In this chance conjunction then, the restless graduate spotted a comic reincarnation of Sickertian ennui. A man on the left stands in full profile, looking at something off-canvas. The paint barely covers the body, and an initial attempt at a profile is left showing through the ankles (working in oils at the time, Hockney would draw straight from brush to canvas). Trousers are merely suggested and the primrose jacket fades into raw canvas background – a pointer to Francis Bacon, or Ron Kitaj, Hockney’s great friend from the RCA. Meanwhile, a large Egyptian figure sits to the right, its head turned to look at the man, or perhaps the same artwork off-stage. The Egyptian is more thoroughly realised. It is busy with different graphic marks – red and blue scribbles, a weathered cummerbund and bold stripes around the collar. With luscious lips, a golden sweep of hair and arms akimbo, it makes a prime stand-in for B-movie beefcake or, equally, a bored wife having a sit-down.
The alternative title, You are in the Wrong Movie, is retained in parentheses, raising textual eyebrows at the absurdity of the coincidence. It also suggests that somewhere out there is the rightmovie set. Hockney gets a kick from the flagrantly artificial, just as the illustrations in American nudist and gay magazines, ‘obviously (like old movies) shot in the made-up sets out of doors’, were to be a window onto a bright-buffed world out of England.(6)
The museum setting also serves to place this specific ‘memento’ within Hockney’s larger concerns as to his place among peers, both contemporaneous and historical. ‘I think I’ve had a permanent affair with the art of the past and it goes hot and cold; the art of the past can be treated too pompously ... The truth is, the art of the past is living; the art of the past that has died is not around.’(7) Pooh-poohing pomposity, Man in a Museum literalises the idea of an artwork being alive, and gives it eyes that can follow you round the room. Hockney exults in the bizarreness of assuming a relationship with the art of the past, by turns touching, droll, creepy – as the overarching theme of the ‘Marriage’ series implies, it is only as odd as many human relationships.
1. Hockney quoted in Nikos Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney (London: Thames & Hudson, 1976), 66.
2. Richard Smith, ‘New Readers Start Here…’, Ark, 32 (Summer 1962), 38.
3. David Hockney by David Hockney, 89.
4. The First Marriage (A Marriage of Styles I) (1962), Tate Collection, London.
5. 1962, Private collection.
6. Hockney quoted in Christopher Finch, David Hockney in America, exh. cat. (New York: William Beadleston, 1983), unpaginated.
7. David Hockney by David Hockney, 87.
Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009
A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.