The life and career of Walter Hopps is legendary. His obituary in The Washington Post described him as a “sort of a gonzo museum directorelusive, unpredictable, outlandish in his range, jagged in his vision, heedless of rules.”
Walter Hopps’s arrival in Houston introduced a new and lively context to us artists. We all learned so much from his curatorial work and the way he installed shows at the Menil Collection. It was impeccable: the perfect height, the perfect space between pieces, and of course astute and telling relationships between works.
For a time, if my phone rang before 7:00 a.m., I knew it was either my mother or Walter Hopps.
There are so many memories associated with Walter. Let’s just think about how he smoked.
My first encounter with Walter Hopps was more characteristic of him than I realized at the time. I surely did not expect that rendezvoussuch as it wasto develop into one of my most important professional friendships, let alone to offer me first-row center seat access to one of great curatorial minds of the twentieth century.
I met Walter Hopps in September 1975 during my year as a museum fellow at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington D.C. (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum).
Walter was a prodigious talker. There was a time when we spoke on the phone every few weeks, seldom for less than an hour.
The Suspect: Milton Ernest Rauschenberg (a.k.a. Robert or, to accomplices, “Bob”). The Case: 1950s era crimes against prevailing aesthetic norms. The Private Dick: Walter Wain Hopps III (a.k.a. “Chico”)
It was a cold December night in 1978 when I finally met him. Having recently moved to DC, I had been told he was the man to know. It took a month to find him.