I’ve read this a couple of times, and enjoyed the blazes out of it both times. Thomas Hoving – the late Thomas Hoving – was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (one of my favorite places in the world) from 1967 to 1977, and was responsible for turning the place upside down. Almost literally. He brought in some of the great works the Museum now boasts, including the Temple of Dendur and – bless his name forever – Velázquez’s “Juan de Pareja”, one of my favorite paintings.
There is never a dull moment in this book. No spade not called a spade, no opinion unexpressed. I’m a little surprised that he wasn’t sued, repeatedly, for some of the opinions and allegations … One thing I will certainly say for Hoving, though, is that he isn’t any more afraid to discuss his own foibles and shortcomings and outright failures than he is everyone else’s. That’s part of what makes his writing appealing. When his own horn deserves tooting, it certainly gets tooted (and, again, he is fair – others’ horns toot all over the place as well), but he doesn’t ignore his errors, at all.
I’m still stunned by the sheer underhandedness that went into the acquisition of many, if not most, of the works in the museum, and the veins of hatred and enmity and cronyism throughout the art and antiquities community. Maybe it’s just as well I never went that route (it was a passing dream I never took any action on) … No, not maybe: I would have been eaten alive.
I was able to visit the Museum in October, and it only added to the deep pleasure the place gives me to know about the ructions and upheavals in its past, the birthing pangs and colic of the early days. Hoving charmingly, smilingly, pleasantly used any means necessary to obtain some of the treasures in those halls – and, selfishly, avariciously, a visit to the place makes me feel it was all well and truly justified.