Thursday, February 4, 2010

More On Walter Hopps And The Corcoran Gallery Of Art In Washington D.C.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art (1897, Ernest Flagg) at 500 17th Street NW, in Washington, DC, viewed from the north.
Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Walter Hopps, 1932-2005
Art in America, May, 2005 by David Ebony
Walter Hopps, 72, museum curator and director and independent curator, died in a Los Angeles hospital from pneumonia. He was known internationally for organizing numerous influential traveling exhibitions and for introducing to the mainstream many key avant-garde artists. Born in Eagle Rock, Calif., he studied at Stanford, Harvard and Yale, though he never earned a degree. He took an early interest in photography, but his dedication to art intensified after meeting Los Angeles collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, whose extensive Marcel Duchamp holdings made a lasting impression on him. (Duchamp, who was also the Arensbergs' advisor, would later become the subject of a landmark show organized by Hopps for the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, the artist's first U.S. retrospective.)

In partnership with Edward Kienholz, Hopps opened Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1957. Showing cutting-edge works of the day and introduced local artists such as Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Ken Price, George Herms and Billy Al Bengston, the gallery quickly became a focal point of L.A.'s contemporary art scene. After Kienholz left the gallery to pursue his own art, Hopps co-managed the gallery with Irving Blum. In 1962 Hopps left Ferus to become curator of the Pasadena Art Museum, where he stayed for five years. Besides the Duchamp exhibition, he organized key shows of works by Frank Stella and Joseph Cornell, as well as the important 1962 show "The New Painting of Common Objects," the first museum survey featuring Pop art.

After just two years, at age 31, Hopps was named director at Pasadena; he was the youngest person in the country at the time to hold such a position. While he was lauded for his curatorial abilities and his close relationships with artists, Hopps's unconventional administrative skills were notorious, and he was fired from the job in 1967. According to the Los Angeles Times, he stowed files and correspondence underneath his office carpet, where they were discovered when the rug was replaced some years after he left the museum.

Among his early successes was the exhibition he selected as U.S. commissioner of the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1965, which featured major pieces by Barnett Newman and younger artists with Minimalist leanings, including Stella, Irwin and Larry Poons. In 1967, Hopps moved to Washington, D.C., where he was the founding director of the now-defunct Washington Gallery of Modern Art. He also lent his support to a number of the city's alternative spaces during this period. Appointed director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1970, and forced to resign after only two years, he took a curatorial position at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art). During his tenure there, he served as U.S. commissioner of the 1972 Venice Biennale, presenting works by Diane Arbus. Among many shows he curated in Washington was a much-admired midcareer survey for Robert Rauschenberg in 1976 to mark the Bicentennial.

In 1979, Hopps was invited by Dominique de Menil to move to Houston, where he became a consultant to the Menil Foundation; he was named director of the Menil Collection the following year. Hopps selected architect Renzo Piano to design the building that houses the collection today. When the Menil Collection museum opened in 1987, he was its director, although after some administrative wrangling, he was demoted to curator of 20th-century art. At the Menil, he mounted retrospectives of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol and Max Ernst. In 1989, Hopps became a consulting curator for the Menil, which allowed him to concentrate on a number of major traveling surveys in subsequent years, among them Jay DeFeo (1990), Kienholz (1996), Rauschenberg (1998) and James Rosenquist (2003), the last in tandem with the Guggenheim Museum, where Hopps was an adjunct curator in recent years.

In honor of his work, the Menil Foundation established in 2001 the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement. The $15,000 prize is bestowed biennially by an international jury. Last year, Hopps received an award for curatorial excellence from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. At the time of his death, he was preparing a survey of recent works by Texas artists for the Menil. He was also planning to revisit several of his early exhibitions with a series of shows at the Menil. In addition, he was organizing a show for the Guggenheim focused on American Abstract Expressionists who were not part of the New York School.