Services had not been determined as of press time for Thomas Hoving, the ebullient and controversial director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977, who died Thursday at age 78 from cancer.
“He had a remarkably full life and, while he was sorry to have gone this way, he felt that he did it all,” his widow, Nancy, told WWD Thursday evening. “A celebration of his life will be announced in the future.”
This story first appeared in the December 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Hoving, a New York City native born Jan. 15, 1931, and a product of Phillips Exeter Academy, The Hotchkiss School and Princeton University, was an instrumental force in the growth and development of the Met. During his tenure, he oversaw Diana Vreeland as head of the Costume Institute.
“She had just been ousted from Vogue, and I didn’t want her — I thought she was too glitzy and I thought she would last six months,” he told WWD’s sister publication W in 1992. But he soon changed his mind about the legendary editor. “Her shows all came in under budget and brought in people who didn’t give a s*** about art. Diana — she was a curious, fraudulent person. She made it seem like it all came off the top of her head, but I caught her studying things. She liked to present herself as slightly flighty, but it all came through hard work.”
“[Vreeland] was a great breath of fresh air. He traveled with her to Russia, and they had quite a time,” said Nancy Hoving. “It was one of the best things that happened, that she came. No question about that.”
Regarding the Costume Institute gala, she remembered, “The earlier ones were kind of wild, before they got so formal. They were sort of fun, earlier on.”
Thomas Hoving made major acquisitions, many of which were the subject of great debate but are now counted among the museum’s biggest attractions, including the Temple of Dendur and Diego Velazquez’s “Juan de Pareja.” Hoving is also credited with ushering in the era of the “blockbuster” exhibit. But when he was appointed director at age 35 in 1967, he told WWD: “Attracting people? Hell, I don’t give a damn about that.
“I’m not trying to build an image for myself….I don’t give a damn,” he continued. “I don’t push things. If they happen, they happen.”
After leaving the Met, Hoving went on to act as arts correspondent for ABC’s “20/20,” edited Connoisseur magazine and published several books, including his memoir, “Making the Mummies Dance.”
As he told W in 1992, a museum head must be “a Ph.D. in art history, with a great eye; a diplomat; a gunslinger; a fund raiser; a smuggler; a ward-heeling politician, and an expert at avoidance of knowledge.”