- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005


HOUSTON — Walter Hopps, a legendary figure in the international art world and founding director of the Menil Collection, died March 20 in Los Angeles, where he had given a speech earlier this month. He was 72.

A maverick curator with enormous respect for artists, Mr. Hopps organized landmark exhibitions time and again over a 50-year career that included posts as the director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and curator of 20th-century art for the Smithsonian Institution.

Mr. Hopps was hospitalized March 14 after falling and breaking three ribs. He died in Cedars-Sinai Hospital of heart failure, according to a friend of the family.

His long career as a curator began in 1956, when he and artist Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles to spotlight progressive art by unknown artists from the West Coast and throughout the country, from Robert Irwin to Andy Warhol.

In 1963, Mr. Hopps was named director of California’s Pasadena Art Museum, where he organized the first retrospectives of European avant-gardists in this country, including Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp.

In another first, he brought the world of Joseph Cornell to the public eye.

He left Pasadena in 1967 for the Corcoran, and in 1972 moved to the Smithsonian. He served as American commissioner of the 1972 Venice Biennale, introducing photography to that forum with an exhibition of works by Diane Arbus.

Born in Eagle Rock, Calif., in 1932, Mr. Hopps attended Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University, but never received a degree. Rather, his expertise and knowledge were garnered by experience and his own curiosity.

As a teenager he became a friend of Walter and Louise Arensberg, renowned collectors in Los Angeles. Through them he met Mr. Duchamp and learned about the School of Paris.

He was essentially a self-taught art historian, with a keen eye for detail and an eye for revolutionary art. His memory of works of art of whatever period — Renaissance, German Expressionist, American contemporary — was precise.

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