Walter Hopps, 72, the brilliant, idiosyncratic curator who indelibly affected Washington art when he was director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, died of heart failure March 20, one day before the opening of “The 48th Corcoran Biennial: Closer to Home.”
Mr. Hopps, whose Corcoran directorship ran from 1970 to 1972, curated the 32nd biennial in 1971. The director selected 11 artists, who then chose another 11. Roy Lich-tenstein picked Ro-bert Gordon. Philip Pearlstein chose Alex Katz. It is remembered as one of the most original biennials of all.
Many in the D.C. arts community remember Mr. Hopps’ singular eye, with which he reliably zeroed in on the best art. That eye enabled him, for example, to recognize early the importance of the 20th-century conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, whom he showed in Pasadena, Calif., in 1963.
Mr. Hopps respected artists, and they were the first people he got to know when he arrived here. He introduced top silk-screen artist Lou Stovall to the D.C. arts community, giving him a silk-screen press in the old Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1967.
“Without Walter, I could have become an old man before anyone considered silk-screen printmaking important,” Mr. Stovall said.
The director discovered the internationally prominent artist Sam Gilliam, who has a major Corcoran retrospective this fall. “He was so important in getting things started here,” Mr. Gilliam said.
Mr. Hopps was a role model for young curators such as Jonathan Binstock, the Corcoran curator of contemporary art, who co-curated this year’s biennial. Calling Mr. Hopps “the greatest curatorial eye of the 20th century,” Mr. Binstock said, “He taught us not only to see the art first, but also to consider the locations of the light switches, wall labels and doorways.”
At his death, Mr. Hopps was consulting curator of the Menil Collection in Houston.
— Joanna Shaw-Eagle