The City of Warring Angels

Three rifts have rocked L.A.’s booming art scene: the breakup of the late Dennis Hopper’s fifth marriage; the divorce of Dodgers executives Jamie and Frank McCourt; and the ongoing rivalry between the town’s great museums, LACMA and MOCA. After a last interview with Hopper—whose retrospective is the controversial debut of MOCA’S new director, Jeffrey Deitch—the author touches base with all the power players, from philanthropic titan Eli Broad to Pop-art prince Ed Ruscha.

  1. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well” was the first thing Dennis Hopper said to me when I went to interview him a month before his death from prostate cancer, on May 29 of this year. The star of Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, and Blue Velvet was lying on a long gray velvet sofa in the loft-like living room of his house in Venice, California, but he sat up to greet me. For a 74-year-old who was gravely ill, he didn’t look too bad, or perhaps his eagerness to talk and his droll sense of humor made things seem better than they were. His face was somewhat hollowed out, but that just made his sky-blue eyes seem bigger and stranger than ever. His weight was down to 104 pounds, but gray sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt with the letters STK printed across the front covered that up. I asked him what the letters stood for. “I don’t know. It’s white and it’s clean,” he said with a chuckle.

    There was a big black painting hanging on the wall behind Hopper. “That’s the last thing I did,” he said. “I took a walk on a Sunday in Venice, Italy. Took a digital photograph. All my photographs are full-frame, so that’s a full frame. ‘Sunday Afternoon Walk in Venice, Italy’ is what that series is called. Then I made it into an oil painting.” There were artworks everywhere—on the walls, on the floor, on tables—including a painting of eyeglasses by John Baldessari. “I love that Baldessari,” he said. “Nobody knows why.” There were also a few blank spots on the walls, with picture hooks still in place. ...