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PRINT May 2001

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Walter Hopps

THE ANNOUNCEMENT IN MARCH of Walter Hopps’s appointment as the Guggenheim’s adjunct senior curator of twentieth-century art marks the latest triumph for director Tom Krens’s expansionist agenda—a campaign that is proving at least as vigorous when it comes to intellectual property as international real estate. Indeed, the visionary curator is but the latest jewel in the crown for the Manhattan museum superpower, currently celebrating the Gehry-Guggenheim partnership (a branding victory unrivaled since Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiral went up on 89th Street) with a full-dress retrospective of the architect’s work. But when asked about the inevitable grumbling re: Krens the empire builder, the Guggenheim’s newest curator offers preemptively, “It’s a good empire.”

In fairness, Hopps’s title only makes official a long-standing collaboration, one that began with the curator’s 1992 Robert Rauschenberg show at the Guggenheim Soho. It’s a hire whose credits include a notable list of firsts—the first museum retrospectives of Duchamp and Cornell, the first survey of American Pop art—not to mention the cofounding, with Edward Kienholz, of LA’s fabled Ferus Gallery. So where does the Guggenheim’s gain leave the Menil Collection and Foundation, the Houston museum whose quiet cachet has been inseparable from founding director Hopps’s curatorial signature over the past fourteen years?

Menil director Ned Rifkin remains upbeat: Hopps is retaining his position as curator of twentieth-century art, and the sharing of the curator’s talents is not entirely at odds with Rifkin’s plan to make the all-in-the-family operation more inclusive. The director, who refers to a “time of transition” at the institution following the 1997 death of founding patron Dominique de Menil, professes confidence that the Menil, which apparently has right of refusal on any project Hopps develops for the Guggenheim, will benefit. “Walter will continue to do projects for us periodically, and we are actually in the process of looking for a chief curator although that’s unconnected to Walter’s new title.”

Meanwhile, Hopps is at work on his first exhibition in his new post, a James Rosenquist retrospective scheduled to open in the fall of 2002 and to travel to the Menil as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He is convinced that the artist’s later, more embattled output will hold its own against the early Pop work. “There’s just no way this red-orange yellow painting could be described in words,” says Hopps of 1999’s The Hitchhiker Climbs Aboard the Speed of Light. What comes after Rosenquist? Hopps again refers to the Krens collaboration: “If I said to Tom, let’s re-create Atlantis and hang a contemporary show in it, he’d look at me like I’d gone nuts—but yes, he’s receptive to my ideas.” Though mum when it comes to specifics, he talks of the serendipity of his long-held interest in Surrealism and the museum’s own legacy, adding a bit cryptically that he’d be looking into “something to do with Surrealist architecture.” Not Atlantis, exactly, but. . .

Rachel Kushner is a New York-based writer and managing editor of Bomb.