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Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dies at 78

December 14, 2009

Thomas Hoving served as the seventh director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 10 years (1967-77) and despite his short tenure he was responsible for a variety changes that redefined the way the museum operated and influenced museums the world over. Not only did he introduce blockbuster exhibitions as an effective way to attract visitors (“Great art should be shown with great excitement,” he once said), he created the contemporary art department (now home to Jasper John’s White Flag) and was responsible for widening the museum’s steps on Fifth Avenue that now make the museum such a popular gathering place. He also wrote several books (one of which I have reviewed) and memoirs regarding working at the museum that were, at times, quite scandalous given how he would bad mouth donors and talk about the black market.

Other interesting things about Hoving that I just learned from all these obituaries are that he was expelled from Phillips Exeter Academy (for hitting his Latin teacher – haha!), he was New York City’s park commissioner (responsible for banning cars from Central Park on Sundays) and he flew an airplane in his later years that he had built himself. The NYTimes has a great article on his contributions here, and the Washington Post here. He sounds like a very interesting man and I will definitely remember to pick up his memoir, Making the Mummies Dance, next time I have the chance.

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