Intimate memories from an acclaimed curator and museum director.
Walter Hopps (1932-2005), lauded for his vision, imagination, and mesmerizing storytelling, felt uncomfortable about writing his life story. He agreed, though, to tape more than 100 hours of interviews with artist and editor Doran, with the aim of distilling from them his autobiography. That task has been ably carried out by New Yorker fiction editor Treisman (editor: 20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker, 2010), who worked with Hopps in the 1990s on the art and literary magazine Grand Street. Hopps’ exposure to modern art came when he was 15 and visited the home of art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg; “the minute I walked through their front door,” he recalled, “it was as if I’d passed through the looking glass.” Growing up near Los Angeles, Hopps was drawn to the art scene there and “the new cultural frontier” in San Francisco. In 1952, he opened a small gallery in Los Angeles to mount group shows of the artists he admired, and a few years later he established the Ferus Gallery and its offshoot Ferus II. At the age of 27, he became the first curator of the Pasadena Art Museum, moved on to the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the Corcoran, and, in 1980, worked with Dominique de Menil to establish her own museum in Houston. Besides imparting a shrewd and entertaining chronicle of his adventures in collecting and exhibiting modern art, Hopps shares warm, animated memories of the many major artists he came to know, including the modest and “hugely intelligent” Marcel Duchamp, whose work he exhibited in Pasadena; Joseph Cornell, diffident, shy, with “the soul of a Balanchine”; Walker Evans, “always such a gracious man”; Barnett Newman, “fascinated by nature, and the experience of nature”; and Andy Warhol. “I never meet another artist who was so good, aesthetically and historically,” Hopps writes, “and yet so acutely engaged with disengagement.”
Sharply drawn sketches and illuminating anecdotes make this book a treat for art lovers.