Saturday, February 28, 2009

Making the Mummies Dance - Book Review

Making the Mummies Dance
by Thomas Hoving
Simon & Schuster 1993

I have been fascinated by Thomas Hoving ever since I read his book King of the Confessors back in the 1980s. That book was totally responsible for my becoming interested in Art History. I have always loved research as well as books, and Art history is a mixture of Research and Bibliography.

Anyway, for many years I have been looking for Hoving's biography of his time as director of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. When he was chasing the Bury St Edmunds Cross (the subject of the King of the Confessors) Hoving was an asssistant curator at the Cloisters - the Medieval section of the Met museum, located in a different part of Manhattan from the main museum building.

Finally after more than 20 years of searching, I found a copy of Hoving's biography.

Hoving was Director of the Museum from 1967 to 1977. He left when he started getting bored. Hoving was directly responsible for bringing the large exhibitions to the museums and making them part of museum life.

If you really want to know what life is like in a museum, then this is the book to read. Hoving writes about dealing with the board of trustees, and with other museum directors as well as with his staff. He wrotes about how he seemed to never be able to hire good staff. In one department, he had to hire a new department director every year until after 6 years, he finally found the right person - Philippe de Montebello. Montebello went on to become Director of the Met Museum after Hoving left.

In this book, we learn all in the inside stories of various exhibitions Hoving was responsible for, including his last and biggest one - King Tut. He even wrote a book about Tutankhamen.

As director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a decade, Thomas Hoving brought art to a new level of public awareness by pioneering such blockbuster shows as the King Tut exhibit. Early in his career, Hoving was introduced to the "curator's game." Each week, he and his contemporaries met to examine details of larger museum masterpieces. Whoever correctly identified the detail in context won free coffee: the losers paid. Hoving has sicen transforms this game into a book called Masterpieces. This book I have yet to find.

After Hoving left the Museum, he worked as an art consultant for a few years, and then he was editor of Connoisseur Magazine from 1981 to 1991. I read a few issues that I found in the Library. I found this to be a very interesting magazine. I was disappointed when they disappeared from the library shelves.

Hoving has written a number of books on art related subjects including forgeries, Grant Wood, Andrew Wyeth, Tutankhamen, and he also wrote the text for Art For Dummies book in the "...For Dummies" series.

I read this book for the Art History Challenge.

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