Tag Archives: thomas hoving

Friday Scatter: Remembering Izquierdo and Hoving

Manuel Izquierdo untitled self-portrait/Laura Russo Gallery

An arts scene is a movable feast, a passing parade of people and ideas. Today’s Portland is vastly different from the big town of the 1950s to the 1980s, when the scene was small and sometimes rowdy but seemed somehow containable, as if you could experience all of it if you tried hard enough.

Glazed terra cotta, early 1980s. Laura Russo Gallery Impossible to even think about that now, which must mean Portland’s evolving into a city at last.

A few dominant figures from that smaller but vigorous art scene remain, among them artists Mel Katz, George Johanson and Jack McClarty. They and others like the late Michele Russo, Sally Haley, Hilda Morris and Carl Morris (and even Mark Rothko, who fled Portland for New York as a young man) continue to exert a significant influence on the shape of art in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

In whatever ways art here has morphed, it’s built on what these artists and others accomplished — and they, in turn, built on the work of even earlier artists such as the Runquist brothers, Maude Kerns, Amanda Snyder, C.S. Price and Charles Heaney.

Manuel Izquierdo mother and child, early 1950s. Laura Russo GalleryAnother big player in those midcentury years, sculptor and printmaker Manuel Izquierdo, died in July. Notable (like so many of his contemporaries) as a teacher as well as an artist, he was also one of the artists who connected the Northwest’s sometimes insular scene to international ideas. He was born in Madrid, left Spain during the Civil War, and spent most of his adult life in Portland. But he brought a European spirit with him.

Laura Russo Gallery has a memorial exhibition of Izquierdo’s work — most of it from the early 1950s through the 1980s — until Dec. 24. I have a review of it in the A&E section of this morning’s Oregonian; you can read it here. The O ran photos of several of Izquierdo’s more mature abstract sculptures. For a different look, I’m showing some of his other, smaller work here, including the self-portrait at top.


Thomas Hoving, the Indiana Jones of museum directors, died Thursday in New York at age 78. Randy Kennedy has a good obituary here in the New York Times.

Hoving's 1993 memoirs of his swashbuckling years at the MetHoving was a swashbuckler, a showman, a democratizer, maybe even something of a pirate. When he took over the great Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan in 1967, at the age of 35, he declared it moribund and set out to make it the most popular show in town.

To the extent that he succeeded — and he radically shifted things before leaving in 1977 — he helped establish the concept of the blockbuster exhibit and set a tone for a whole generation of museum directors: Certainly John Buchanan, former director of the Portland Art Museum and now running the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is a child of Hoving.

The Hoving style is out of fashion — you get the feeling that a lot of priests in the museum world don’t want their temples sullied with actual paying customers — but Hoving figured out a couple of key, simple things for which we can all be grateful: (a) great art is exciting; (b) the potential audience for great art is a lot bigger than the gatekeepers believe. That led, inevitably, to (c) if you make a Big Event out of it, you can get people knocking down the doors to get in.

The excesses and occasional inanities of the blockbuster style eventually put it in disrepute, and the current economic collapse has given it at least a temporary knockout punch: Museums are saving money by reconsidering what’s already in their collections, and in a lot of cases that’s a good thing.

But a couple of things got lost in the counterrevolution. First, Hoving really knew his art, and what he was selling was usually first-rate. Second, not all blockbusters are equal. A surprising number of “big” shows have also had a high level of historic, academic and aesthetic interest. The blockbuster was (and will be again: These things go in cycles) a style of presentation, not a definition of quality. That the style itself, regardless of content, offended a lot of people is … well, interesting.

I like this quote from Philippe de Montebello, Hoving’s successor at the Met, in Kennedy’s obituary for the Times: “People criticized him for his excesses, but you have to remember that it is not the timorous who climb life’s peaks. He has left us with a changed museum world.”


Thursday scatter: of foxes and hen houses, etc.

An egg crisis is ravaging the hen house.

They’re disappearing.

And the foxes are shocked, shocked.

While the hens bemoan the loss of their little ones — several survivors have been running around crying that the sky is falling — the foxes have gathered the whole barnyard to declare that Something Must Be Done. Trust them: We Must Act Now.

The head fox has declared that the true victims are the foxes themselves, who have been cruelly deprived of their stockpile of eggs. To avert catastrophe, the foxes’ hoards must be replenished: The hens must lay 700 billion new eggs, right now. The farmer, blinking owlishly, agrees. One wise old fox, who yearns to live in the farm house, has declared that he will Suspend All Other Activities while he Helps Find a Solution. That solution will be found by foxes, and foxes alone. And the solution is that the Hens Will Provide.

Meanwhile, no omelettes this morning. And for music lovers, the rooster doesn’t much feel like crowing, either. Where’s Aesop when we need him? Where’s George Orwell?


NEW GUY AT THE GUGGENHEIM: Those who can curate, curate. Those who can curate well, lead museums. At least, that’s the mini-trend among major museums in New York.

Following the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s appointment earlier this month of European tapestry curator Thomas P. Campbell to replace the venerated Philippe de Montebello as director, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has named Richard Armstrong, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, as the Guggenheim‘s next director.

Like Campbell, Armstrong rose in the ranks on the strength of his curatorial qualities, not his showmanship: His specialty is contemporary art, a good fit for the Goog. And the ever-busy Carol Vogel, in her report for the New York Times, suggests that after years of expansion in Bilbao, Venice, Berlin and (coming in 2013) Abu Dhabi, Armstrong and the Guggenheim are ready to shift their focus back to New York. Another good report comes from The Art Newspaper.

Is it possible that sober financial times are bringing more prudential museum leaders? De Montebello, of course, has combined prudence, measured daring and a brilliant commitment to the art for more than 30 years at the Met, following the mercurial reign of supershowman Thomas Hoving. At the Guggenheim, Armstrong will follow high-rolling Thomas Krens. And when the Portland Art Museum‘s Hoving-like director John Buchanan headed south to take over the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the museum board replaced him with Brian Ferriso and charged Ferriso to quiet the waters and keep things on an even keel.

The question is, will an even keel fill the cruise ship with customers? Is generating excitement gauche, or is it part of what a museum is about? To what extent does a museum exist for insiders, and to what extent does it have a duty to appeal to the general public?

These are uneasy times, and leading a major — or modest — museum is no easy task. To Armstrong, Campbell, Ferriso and their compatriots, then: Good luck, be wise, balance well, take risks, and don’t forget the public.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOMEDAY: Someday Lounge, that is. The Old Town Portland night spot and hub for interesting alternative arts has turned two and is celebrating with a bunch of events this weekend. The one that catches our eye is the premiere of Pig Roast and Tank of Fish, a documentary about Portland’s Chinatown (which is more or less where the Someday coexists) to be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28. Here’s what the Lounge has to say:

Portlander Ivy Lin directed and produced Pig Roast & Tank of Fish. “I’ve always wondered why our Chinatown went from being the second largest in the U.S. to almost like a ghost town. It’s in the heart of downtown, with that beautiful gate and garden and nothing much else,” says Lin. “Earlier this year, 70 Asians showed up at a city council meeting to testify against the the siting of another homeless shelter on Block 25 in Chinatown. I was not even involved with the Chinese community then, but I was very moved and this event became the inspiration for this project.”

This documentary is the first-ever motion picture to acknowledge the history/legacy of Chinatown, Portland’s oldest neighborhood where the pioneers of many ethnic communities once called “home.” It includes some rarely seen footage of ongoing cultural/social activities behind closed doors…Chinatown is not dead!

See you there, Friends of Art Scatter.