Hoving, Thomas (Pearsall Field) 1931-
HOVING, Thomas (Pearsall Field) 1931-
PERSONAL: Born January 15, 1931, in New York, NY; son of Walter (in business) and Mary Osgood (Field) Hoving; married Nancy Melissa Bell (a management consultant), October 3, 1953; children: Petrea Bell. Education: Princeton University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1953, M.F.A., 1958, Ph.D., 1959.
CAREER: Museum and cultural affairs consultant, author. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters, New York, NY, curatorial assistant, 1959-60, assistant curator, 1960-63, associate curator, 1963-65, curator, 1965-66; New York City commissioner of parks, New York, NY, 1966-67, administrator of recreation and cultural affairs, 1967; Metropolitan Museum of Art, director, 1967-77; management consultant, 1977—. Correspondent and interviewer for American Broadcasting Co. (ABC-TV) feature news program 20/20. Director of International Business Machines (IBM) Americas, H. S. Stuttman Co., and Manhattan Industries. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1953-55; became first lieutenant.
MEMBER: American Institute of Architects (honorary member).
AWARDS, HONORS: National Council of the Humanities fellowship, 1955; Kienbusch and Haring fellowship, 1957; distinguished citizen award from Citizens Budget Committee, 1966; award from Cue magazine, 1966; LL.D. from Pratt Institute, 1967; distinguished achievement award from Advertising Club of America, 1968; LL.D. from Princeton University, 1968; D.F.A. from New York University, 1968; Litt.D. from Middlebury College, 1968.
The Sources of the Ivories of the Ada School (Ph.D. thesis), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1960.
(Editor) The Chase, the Capture: Collecting at the Metropolitan, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 1975.
Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 1976.
Tutankhamun: The Untold Story, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
King of the Confessors, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Masterpiece (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
Discovery! (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.
Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Andrew Wyeth) Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography, As Told to Thomas Hoving, Bulfinch (Boston, MA), 1995.
False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization, Artisan/Workman (New York, NY), 1997.
Art for Dummies, foreword by Andrew Wyeth, IDG Books Worldwide (Foster City, CA), 1999.
The Art of Dan Namingha, Abrams (New York, NY), 2000.
Author of Metropolitan Museum of Art guidebooks and art calendars. Consultant to Museums, New York and author of its column "Happenings." Contributor of articles to Apollo, House Beautiful, and Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Editor for Connoisseur.
SIDELIGHTS: Thomas Hoving joined the curatorial staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1959 after James J. Rorimer, the museum director at that time, heard Hoving lecture at New York's Frick Collection on the Annibale Carracci frescoes of the Farnese Gallery in Rome. Hoving started as a curatorial assistant in the Cloisters, the Metropolitan's collection of medieval art, which includes a number of intact medieval cloisters, or enclosed colonnades, brought over from Europe. Hoving quickly moved up to curator of the Met's Cloisters, in part because of his discovery of the twelfth-century medieval ivory, the controversial Bury St. Edmunds Cross. Following that, Hoving took a brief respite from the art world by joining the New York City Parks Department as commissioner under the auspices of 1966 mayor John Lindsay. Building a reputation for himself as a great public relations man for the parks system, Hoving was soon romanced back to the Metropolitan when, in 1967, his former mentor Rorimer died and Hoving was appointed the new director of the largest art museum in the world.
Hoving spent ten years at the Met, striving to change the museum's operations and attempting to make art more accessible to all people, which at times rattled many a cage in the New York art community. As he recalled in a New York Metro online interview by Michael Gross, "When I became the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was stodgy, gray, run by elitists. I said, 'Hey, let's kick the thing around.' I wanted to attract young people to the museum." Hoving's idea of having blockbuster exhibits, advertising in newspapers and magazines, and encouraging loitering on the building's front steps introduced a new generation to the exciting possibilities of visual art. Considered a maverick during his ten-year tenure with the Met, Hoving is today recognized as a significant force in creating and sustaining interest in museums and art collections.
Since his departure from the Met, Hoving has been writing about his many adventures in the art world, particularly about his tenure at the Met. His writing has shattered myths, reputations, and pretenses of the world art community. Though some critics have considered his work controversial, claiming his sense of detail too sketchy or too embellished, or Hoving's truths to be his truths alone, Hoving's books have been very popular with the public. His titles have spent many weeks on The New York Times bestseller lists. Answering his critics in his online interview, Hoving stated: "It's virtually impossible to cheapen a great work of art by popularizing it!" What he suggests in his books instead is that one need not have vast education or prior knowledge of art works to enjoy the experience of attending a museum.
In 1977, Hoving's book Tutankhamun: The Untold Story was published to coincide with the first American tour of the treasures of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Hoving's work joined the "King Tut" craze, but with a twist. In this volume the author discusses the fascinating and controversial tale of Howard Carter's discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and his celebratory, and clandestine, "pilfering" of the archaeological site. Barbara G. Mertz thought the book somewhat clarified the real picture of archaeology and Egyptology, commenting that Tutankhamun "gives considerable insight into the sometimes sordid, sometimes amusing complications that affect all human activities, even archaeology."
Hoving's King of the Confessors reveals the history and capture of the Bury St. Edmunds cross, a twelfth-century medieval ivory. Here the reader discovers Hoving's obsessive involvement and pursuit, on an international scale, of the controversial acquisition of this damaged, incomplete, yet highly valuable medieval artifact. The cross cost the Met $600,000, a very large sum by 1960s standards. In a 1980 interview with Contemporary Authors Hoving explained, "That twelfth-century cross, which I consider to be one of the greatest works of art ever created . . . changed my life. . . . It is owing to that cross that I became director of the Metropolitan." Accusing Hoving of self-aggrandizement, Walter Goodman, writing for the New York Times Book Review, stated, "The promotional pizazz that marked Mr. Hoving's reign at the Met is here devoted to himself. He concedes that ambition generally overcame his scruples." But Goodman also admitted that the work supplies "a remarkable tale of international espionage, art history and museum one-upmanship." Long-time art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto, writing for the Nation, described Hoving's tale as though Hoving were a knight, adding, "I liked the cheerful amorality of the quest, and the glimpse into the underside of the museum world, full of monsters."
Hoving's next two works were fiction. In his 1986 novel Masterpiece, he introduces a woman and a man bent on professional advancement, creating an acquisition competition between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Their chemistry clashes as well in their rival attempts to attain a rare and valuable Velasquez painting. Finding some of Hoving's text embarrassingly laughable, New York Times Book Review contributor Lawrence Weschler asked, "Does anyone really sound like that?" Weschler mused that Hoving may have been "simply lampooning the entire blockbuster genre—but parody has to be at least as well written as the genre it upends, and Masterpiece isn't." A Kirkus Reviews critic found the work "as styleless as any middlebrow thrill," but conceded that Masterpiece "cries out for celluloid."
Hoving's second attempt at fiction, Discovery!, is a sequel to Masterpiece, revisiting Foster and Cartwright, now married. The couple find themselves on an archaeological dig in Italy and knee-deep in underworld intrigue and corruption. A Kirkus Reviews contributor suggested that "the hundred pages or so of connoisseurship (much of it erotic) are worth the novel's failings."
Probably Hoving's most popular work came in 1993 with his best-selling publication Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Abandoning fiction, Hoving discusses how he achieved greatness by gaining and inventing the avant-garde directorship of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the ten years between 1967 and 1977. The memoir also recounts Hoving's experiences as director of Manhattan's municipal parks and his decision to return to the Met even though it was known to be a staid—some would say elitist—place. The book's title refers to a comment made by New York Mayor John Lindsay, who told Hoving to "make the mummies dance" in order to wake up the "dead" museum.
In Making the Mummies Dance Hoving counts himself a success for his many staff changes and programs designed to broaden the museum's appeal. However, a few critics suggested that his recollection of events was not always accurate. Art History contributor Hilton Kramer noted that Hoving's one self-laudatory tale about an alleged investigation into the hiring practices at the Met just prior to his being given the directorship is full of error, miscalculations of dates, details, names, and titles. In his review of Mummies, Kramer quoted Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, "'This anecdote . . . is vintage Hoving for its combination of skulduggery, one-upmanship, bravado and unreliability.'" James Gardner in the National Review wrote, "If this were a better book, it would probably be far less enjoyable." Gardner called the book "a vulgar crowdpleaser."
Other reviewers were more charitable in their estimations of Making the Mummies Dance. Jo Ann Lewis in the Washington Post praised Hoving's work as a "riveting, revealing and outrageously nasty social document about the '70s art world that has set phone lines buzzing, faxes humming and—not incidentally—the book climbing up the New York Times bestseller list." Hoving's honesty made many people nervous as he discussed such things as his own and his staff administrators' characters, infidelities, and failed exhibits. But he also covers the grand achievements such as developing small installation shows and blockbuster exhibits of dead and living artists, face-lifting the building itself, increasing the permanent collection, and turning the little bookstore into a spacious first-floor adventure-in-shopping for art books, gifts, and even moderate market reproductions. Hoving's thick-skinned, aggressive business-like approach and trail-blazing has been seen as the prototype and catalyst for change in the way museums are managed now and how people in America approach art today. In an interview with Lewis, Hoving explained, "When I went back to the Met, I was no longer a curator: I was a politician who'd learned how the city worked, and how businesses worked, and I wanted to get things done."
Eric Gibson, contributor to Insight on the News, offered two reasons for the importance of Making the Mummies Dance. The first is that "Hoving's career ushered in the 'modern' museum. . . . His book pro vides the most detailed chronicle yet of this fateful transformation of our museums." The second reason for the book's significance is that "it provides a sobering glimpse of just what a museum director is prepared to do to secure a treasured acquisition. . . . Whether we like it or not, Hoving is the first of an entirely new breed of museum director." Gibson viewed this story and the attitude of the man who tells it as "the unrepentant, wink-at-the-audience pride of an inveterate seducer." Defending Hoving's controversial tactics, Gibson stated that "Hoving at least possessed a knowledge and a love of art," adding, "This book is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand how we have gotten where we are today, and what has been lost along the way."
Hoving has also written a catalog meant to accompany a retrospective art exhibit of Andrew Wyeth in 1995 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Having interviewed the much-loved and respected American watercolorist Andrew Wyeth in 1976, Hoving gleaned comments made by Wyeth about each of the over four thousand pieces he had painted down to just those that would appear in the 1995 Kansas City exhibit. He titled the show's catalog Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography. Though his initial publication of the Wyeth interview did not sell as well as Hoving would have liked, he is proud of it and asserted: "The artist was very cooperative. The book marks the first time an art historian ever interviewed Wyeth."
In the 1996 book False Impressions: The Hunt for the Big-Time Art Fakes, Hoving again boldly tells art tales, but this time blasting away at forgers and the dupes who have been taken in by them. After at least three decades in the art-buying and museum business, Hoving shows how some of the world-famous art forgers have wielded their craft. He discusses how colleagues from other major museums have been taken in by these forgers. Though hoodwinked himself on at least three occasions, still Hoving names himself as one "fakebuster" who can sniff out any forgery. Contributing to the Sewanee Review, Malcolm Goldstein thought Hoving felt "obvious pleasure" when "recounting the mistakes of his colleagues in the museum world. . . . One would expect greater charity, or at least greater restraint, from so intelligent and learned a man." In Business Week Thane Peterson wrote, "Fascinating as it is, False Impressions shares many of the weaknesses of Mummies. Hoving can't resist the unkind rumor." But in the Lewis interview Hoving's wife, Nancy, defended her husband: "Stepping on toes has never been a problem for him: He doesn't feel it, so he doesn't think anybody else does either."
London Observer writer Jay Rayner gave Hoving credit for a story well told: "The book is at its most enjoyable when he is recounting the detective work that led to the uncovering of great fakes." Likewise, Washington Post correspondent Philip Kopper described False Impressions as fascinating: "Hoving is best when writing about things and people he knows and likes. Consequently there is gold here." Kopper went even further to wryly suggest its validity as an excellent reference book for art collectors and art students but added, "When [False Impressions] finds its place on the shelf as the text for Art Fakes 101, let it be without the jacket's clowning pictures that telegraph the author's posturing prose inside. For that is not where this informing book's value lies."
Hoving's Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization was published in 1997. What makes this standard oversized coffee-table book of art different is that the artworks featured are handpicked by Hoving himself, presenting them as "the ones that changed my life. . . . All I cared about were my reactions and whether they mirrored the power, the mystery, and the magnetism of the works themselves." Library Journal contributor Eric Bryant wrote that Hoving's annotations accompanying each work of art, outside of a one-page introduction, are "brief, often gossipy commentaries." Bryant also noted that while many of the 111 works have been featured in other books, many are surprises, and further implies that Hoving's name as the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York should be ample justification for examining Greatest Works.
The personal computer era spawned a number of books "for dummies," and eventually the series spilled into other areas of expertise, from wine and book collecting to art appreciation. Thus it was that Hoving was asked to pen Art for Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us!, a book that introduces general readers to art history, collecting art, evaluating talent, and visiting museums. As a Town and Country reviewer put it, the author "revels in the opportunity to demystify art without denigrating it." Library Journal contributor Douglas F. Smith also found the work "delightful," concluding that it that it is a "terrific book for students. . . and old hands alike."
In a Contemporary Authors interview, Hoving responded to questions about his career and his work as an author of books. When asked how he writes he answered, "Very fast. . . . I write in longhand—anywhere, on planes, in cars. Then a secretary types it up. Tutankhamun took just two drafts, whereas letters can sometimes take up to twelve drafts." Contemporary Authors asked Hoving what art writers he admired, and his answer was sure and succinct, "Longhi, Max Friedlaender, Krautheimer, and Panofsky." While he felt Kenneth Clark's Civilisation to be admirable in the main, Hoving accused Clark of omitting Germany "almost entirely." Since his departure from the Met, Hoving has enjoyed working as editor of Connoisseur magazine, performing management consulting with his business partner/wife Nancy, sitting in as columnist of "Happenings" for Museums, New York, and reporting and interviewing on the American Broadcasting Company's (ABC) news program 20/20. Hoving once told CA: "I thoroughly enjoy it. . . . [All] these activities go to support my writing, which I like better than anything."
For a previously published interview, see entry in Contemporary Authors, Volume 101.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hess, John L., The Grand Inquisitors, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1974.
America, May 15, 1982, p. 387.
American History Illustrated, November, 1987, p. 10.
Art in America, June, 1986, p. 18; June, 1986, p. 28; January, 1987, p. 19.
ARTnews, March, 1993, p. 60; January, 2000, Milton Esterow, review of Art for Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us!, p. 124.
Atlantic, January, 1982, p. 88.
Atlantic Monthly, June, 1996, p. 126.
Booklist, November 1, 1992, p. 466; May 1, 1996, p. 1481; December 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization, p. 677.
Business Week, February 1, 1993, p. 13; June 3, 1996, p. 15.
Chicago Tribune Book World, October 22, 1978.
Connoisseur, January, 1982, p. 1.
Cosmopolitan, December, 1981, p. 22.
Economist, January 23, 1993, p. 83.
House Beautiful, January, 1982, p. 33.
Insight on the News, February 8, 1993, p. 22.
Library Journal, November 1, 1992, p. 83; May 15, 1996, p. 57; October 15, 1997, Eric Bryant, review of Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization, p. 58; October 15, 1999, Douglas F. Smith, review of Art for Dummies, p. 66.
Nation, February 8, 1993, p. 166.
National Review, December 11, 1981, p. 1496; March 1, 1993, p. 65.
New Republic, April 12, 1993, p. 36.
New York, December 7, 1981, p. 61.
New Yorker, February 8, 1993, p. 106.
New York Review of Books, March 4, 1993, p. 8.
New York Times, December 26, 1978.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1978; January 3, 1993, p. 1; May 19, 1996, p. 20.
People Weekly, October 26, 1981, p. 32; December 1, 1986, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 1987, p. 60; June 16, 1989, p. 57; June 21, 1989, p. 58; November 23, 1992, p. 45; February 26, 1996, p. 90; June 19, 2000, review of The Art of Dan Namingha, p. 74.
Time, November 16, 1981, p. 141; September 1, 1986, p. 85.
Town & Country, September, 1999, "Opening Your Eyes," p. 110.
U.S. News and World Report, August 13, 2001, Andrew Curry, "Medieval Questions," p. 47.
Washington Post Book World, November 26, 1978.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1982, p. 385.
New York Metro Web site,http://www.newyorkmetro.com/ (February 21, 2003), interview with Hoving.*