Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps

By Obrist, Hans-Ulrich | Artforum International, February 1996 | Go to article overview

Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps


Obrist, Hans-Ulrich, Artforum International


In Calvin Tomkins' 1991 new yorker profile "A Touch for the Now," curator Walter Hopps comes across as an eccentric maverick. We learn of his preferred schedule (his workday begins not long before sundown and stretches into the morning hours) and near-mythic disappearing acts (his elusiveness prompted employees at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., where he served as director in the '70s, to make buttons reading "WALTER HOPPS WILL BE HERE IN 20 MINUTES"). It was his relentless perfectionism, however - preparators will recall the habitual groan "Wrong, wrong, wrong" that greeted their best efforts - that cemented the impression of the curator as a mercurial iconoclast. Indeed, while Hopps' legendary nonconformity may overshadow his curatorial accomplishment, his independence is not unrelated to his achievement. In a 40-year career spent in and out of the museum world, during which he has organized well over 100 exhibitions, he has never succumbed to administrative logic or routine (he once said working for bureaucrats while a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts - now the National Museum of American Art - was "like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal"). Hopps, in retrospect, manages to come across as both consummate insider and quintessential outsider.

Hopps opened his first gallery, Syndell Gallery, while still a student at UCLA in the early '50s, and soon achieved acclaim for his "Action 1" and "Action2" overviews of a new generation of California artists. Later, his Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles would bring attention to such artists as Ed Kienholz, George Herms, and Wallace Berman. As director of the Pasadena Museum of Art (1963-67), Hopps mounted an impressive roster of exhibitions, including the first U.S. retrospectives of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell and the first museum overview of American Pop art ("New Paintings of Common Objects") - not to mention Marcel Duchamp's first one-man museum show.

Yet Hopps has enjoyed as much success outside institutional settings as within them. Shows such as "Thirty-Six Hours," in which he hung the work of any and all comers over a two-and-a-half-day period, are case studies in curating art outside museum settings, Even today Hopps works in multiple contexts: while serving as consulting curator for the Menil Collection in Houston, he also puts in time as art editor of Grand Street, a literary journal that he has helped turn into an artists' showcase.

Hopps' flair as an impresario is matched only by his knack for hanging stunning shows. As Anne d'Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, put it, his success comes from "his sense of the character of works of art, and of how to bring that character out without getting in the way." But Hopps also sees the curator as something like a conductor striving to establish harmony between individual musicians. As he told me when I sat down to interview him in Houston in December, in anticipation of his Kienholz retrospective that goes up this month at the Whitney, it was Duchamp who taught him the cardinal curatorial rule: in the organization of exhibitions, the works must not stand in the way.

HANS-ULRICH OBRIST: You worked in the early '50s as a music impresario and organizer. How did the transition to organizing exhibitions take place?

WALTER HOPPS: They both happened at the same time. When I was in high school, I formed a kind of photographic society, and we did projects and exhibits at the high school. It was also at that time that I first met Walter and Louise Arensberg.

But some of my closest friends were actually musicians, and the '40s were a great time of innovation in jazz. It was a thrill to be able to see classic performers like Billie Holliday around the clubs in Los Angeles, or the new people like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. The younger musicians I knew began to try to get engagements and bookings, but it was very hard in those days. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.