My late father was a childhood friend of John Lindsay and worked on his New York mayoral campaign in 1965. When Thomas Hoving became Lindsay's Parks Commissioner, Dad would curse Tom at dinner nightly. "That bastard Hoving is ruining the tranquility of Central Park!" Yet thanks to Tom, I got to see numerous Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead concerts there, march in dozens of peace demonstrations, canoodle on Sheep Meadow with Chapin girls and enjoy the biggest outdoor drug market in New York at the Central Park Bandshell.
A diamond square peg in a dusty round hole, Tom Hoving did more to change the cultural landscape of New York and the contemporary art world than any single human being, even Andy Warhol. You can read the details in his memoirs, which he courageously penned recently for Artnet Magazine, but let us consider what Hoving hath wrought. The blockbuster museum exhibition was his creation. Before Tom arrived, the Metropolitan Museum had all the sex appeal of a monastery.
The major auction purchase? I give you Velásquez’ Juan de Pareja (1650), a newly minted 20th-century rediscoveries of Tom. Race and class cultural controversy in an art context? Tom's show "Harlem on My Mind," pissing people off decades before Mapplethorpe and Serrano.
How about those new bike lanes all over Manhattan? Tom was the first to introduce them when he was parks commish in the ‘60s.
Pick up your glossy art magazine bulging with ads at the newsstand. Hoving invented the brand when he was editor of Connoisseur. In-depth analysis of the interface between all kinds of art and high society? Tom Hoving and Tom Wolfe invented this reactionary-bohemian trope together, and Tom was the first to do an art world tell-all, before Richard Feigen and others, with his book Making the Mummies Dance.
Tom always stayed at one place just long enough to alienate all the right people and pick up enough cultural trinkets to ease the transition upwards to the next plateau of his beautiful, imperious life. He could fly a plane, compliment a woman's bosom, deliver a bon mot, help a reporter, arrange a deal, write an article and enjoy caviar and champagne before it was time to don the soup-and-fish for another tuxedoed evening. He was tall enough to just about reach heaven when he was alive and now God has his hands full. Ave atque vale!
In addition to his memoir, Thomas Hoving wrote frequently for Artnet Magazine over the years, penning a “My Eye” column in 1999-2000 and another series, “Super Art Gems of New York City” in 2001; a complete index can be found here. More recently, Hoving starred in his own mini-video series here on Artnet, also called “My Eye,” which is archived here.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).