28. FREEDOM AND TREMBLING
When for the last time as director I walked down the museum's grand steps -- the steps that I had suffered through lawsuits and much acrimony to put there -- I felt giddy and a bit apprehensive. I had cut off all my bridges. I had no job and there were no offers, totally unlike the moment when I had quits Parks. At least, I was going to become a professional writer. And this time it wasn't because of a personal journal or unpublishable short stories or outlines for novels never to appear or another "stirring" museum speech or paper to some museum conference, but an expose of the most intriguing archaeological event ever, the discovery of King Tutankhamen.
My final half-year at the museum had been a shambles. Publisher Walter Annenberg, one of the most generous Met trustees and my dear friend, had dreamed of establishing a center at the museum that would make a series of art historical films like Sir Kenneth Clark's "Civilization" and would assemble an immense inventory of photographs of every work of art in the world. The films, to be made by the directors of "Civilization," would have the widest possible audience range -- from early school to post-graduate. The archive of photos would be available to anyone for a modest fee.
Annenberg's concept was visionary and doable since he promised to endow it initially with one hundred million dollars increasing over ten years to three quarters of a billion. The center was to be located in the southwest wing of the Metropolitan.
Opponents, mainly in academe, attacked the idea, crying out falsely that original art would be snuffed out by reproductions. Park lovers complained about further encroachment (despite the fact that this part of the master plan had already been approved by all city agencies). One popular -- and alcoholic -- columnist wrote that Annenberg was "stealing the soul" of the museum to assuage his anger that his father had been jailed for income tax evasions.
No politician stepped in to help the project along except for Hugh Carey, the governor of New York State. But Annenberg, profoundly hurt by the critics, pulled out his proposed funding. What might have been a singular contribution to the visual arts in the twentieth century collapsed. Imagine if there did exist today a photographic archive of every work in existence and an ongoing series of art educational films for all educational levels. As in many things in my life I was way ahead of the parade.
Annenberg invited Nancy and me to his paradise estate in Palm Springs. "Hovings, to help you out I'm going to invest three million dollars in a film company to make art films like ‘Civilization,’ which you kids can run."
Nancy interjected, "Sweet. But no thanks, Walter. I don't think it's smart for us to have you be the only horse that pulls our life's wagon down the road. We like you too much for that."
I did one job for Walter after we had started our museum-consulting firm, Hoving Associates. He wanted to put up the bucks to continue the excavations at Herculaneum. He asked me to feel out the trustees of the Getty Foundation with the idea of forming a partnership with his own foundation.
I met the Getty gang at the exclusive Oil Club in downtown Los Angeles. The Chairman of the Getty Trust, Harold Berg, a retired oilman, was a crusty, profane guy. He inhaled a Camel in one suck and drained his martini in two slurps as he listened to my pitch of the two wealthy foundations getting together and collaborating with the Italian government to dig the prize location.
Two minutes into my pitch, Berg grumbled. "Wanna know what I think of ‘Guineas?’ Not much."
"Don't like 'em," Berg went on. "What they ought to do is sell us that bunch of ancient stuff they have in that old Naples Museum. Work with Guineas? Forget it."
I rose to my feet and left the room.
"Hey, where you goin'?" Berg asked, but I didn't bother to reply.
Walter choked with laughter when I told him what had happened.
When the Annenberg Center finally collapsed, I had no job, only my fuck-you trust stipend and few prospects. One bright spot in the gray skies was that IBM didn't throw me off the board when I quit the Met. Arthur K. "Dick" Watson, a long-time trustee, had appointed me in 1969 to the Far East Division board of directors of IBM -- worth an average of $24,000 a year in director's fees. The duties were far from ponderous -- a board meeting a month and two times a year a trip to Australia or Japan or Hong Kong or Taiwan. Nancy and I remember well our visits to Kyoto's prime Ryokan, the "Tawaraya," with its private bamboo garden, perfect martinis and a scalding hot bath that took us hours to slip into, as we slowly turned lobster-red.
I was the youngest member of the board and was known for not dressing in IBM white shirts and for calling out incessantly for the company to break away from its dependence on giant mainframe computers and get into the personal computer market. I was infamous for a statement I'd made at a full board session to discuss how the company should react to the federal government's suit to split up the company. The then chairman Frank Carey outlined the costs and the work it would take to fight the proposed break-up. I remember seeing several lawyers all but drooling at the thought of endless hefty fees.
When Carey asked for comments I raised my arm.
"Why fight?" I asked.
There were gasps.
"IBM has some real clunkers, as we insiders well know," I said. "The disastrous copying machine, the 'medieval' dictating machine, and a bunch of other sagging products. Why not allow the government to force us to divest ourselves of these mediocre products as well as the divisions that make them? No one outside the company knows how bad these items are and we'd make a good profit getting rid of them. Then we can concentrate on the best stuff we already make and capture the market without government interference."
"Mr. Hoving, you're out of order." Carey barked.
A man sitting on the wall behind me put up his hand.
"I have no voice or vote anymore, but I want to second what Mr. Hoving just said."
It was Tom Watson, Jr.
Sadly, IBM spent huge sums on the case, which was subsequently dropped by the Feds.
Chairman John Akers pushed me off the board in 1988. It was not fun to lose that income and those amusing trips.
My daughter married a wonderful man after going through innumerable boyfriends, only two of whom were acceptable to us. Of course, we never said a word about the duds, fearing she’d run off with one of them. Ever since she was cured of colic in early February 1957 Trea Hoving has been bliss. She is beautiful, intelligent, and full of humor, athletic, loyal to her friends, successful at business and an untiring mother to her three daughters -- she had twin girls when she was 43 years of age. Of course she has had her share of dark nights of the soul but not many -- surely not as many as I have had.
She went to Spence School in upper Manhattan from kindergarten through twelfth grade. She matriculated at Wesleyan in Connecticut and met, as I had, a professor who hooked her. It was Professor Janine Bassinger, who gave a course in the history of film.
After graduation she went to work for one of my associates for a spell and then started reading scripts for a New York City independent film producer named Harvey Weinstein at his small and struggling Miramax Co.
I cannot say that Trea "made" Miramax the independent juggernaut that it became or helped Disney purchase the company for an outrageous sum, but she did have a hand in acquiring a bunch of films that became Miramax legends. Films like Reservoir Dogs, Enchanted April and Cinema Paradiso.
My daughter's main boyfriend for four years was John MacWilliams, an intelligent and creative young lawyer and investment banker. While their relationship never ripened into marriage, John and I remained good friends and have skied together many times as I have recounted and learned how to fly together.
Trea married an Englishman, Colin Leventhal, whom she met at a Cannes film festival. I'm not known for my love of Brits, thinking many of them stuck-up, and when she told me she wanted to marry one, I bristled. She calmed me down by telling me, "He's Brit, but he's Jewish." The wedding, at Central Park's boathouse was a Christian-Jewish affair with a minister and a Rabbi (who joked to me that he wasn't sure he could go through with the ceremony knowing an Episcopalian minister would also be involved).
At the lunch after the wedding I made a long toast to my Trea that had us both laughing and weeping at the same time. "When one has an only child there is the high focus of countless joys accented by moments of sheer terror, knowing that something can take the only thing away. Trea was conceived in Rome. That explains a lot about her beauty. The first I knew of her impending existence was in Sicily, at Solunto, when Nancy refused my urging her to get up on that mule and ride. She preferred to walk. Yes. And there were the medical shots taken in Sicily, shots that the FDA didn't allow, which no doubt saved this child. I have my passionate notes written when she was being born and the joy I felt upon gazing at this wonderfully beautiful creature. And watching her crawl so fast that you'd think she had afterburners. And the terror at a friend's pool in Princeton when I looked up from my drink to see no Trea. And the dash to the deep end and diving in and grabbing the child who was sitting at the bottom placidly with a smile on her face and thrusting her up and out of the water into her mother's arms. And the joy of watching her at the age of three -- ah, the splendid year of three -- taking a concentrated hour to remove intact and perfect a cherry from the depths of a Coke bottle. And the pleasure of watching her develop into a fine athlete -- the skating ("Are the laces too tight, honey?" "I like it tight.") and the skiing, so graceful and effortless. And the wonderment of seeing her in school. And watching her in love with her animals, her Siamese cats she dubbed Mopsy and Bopsy. And her photography. And the fear when she went off too late on one of those early dates. And the terror of some of those klunker boyfriends -- but we'll mention no names. And seeing her in college working so well in the history of art and film. And experiencing her as she became a part of some of the most important works of art to be made in the past decade -- films. But no moment of joy can surpass, no instant of pleasure can outdo this moment when she has married a superior human being. Thanks for sharing this heavenly moment with me."
Her husband Colin Leventhal is a beautifully educated, highly intelligent, witty, warm, wise human being with a profound moral balance. When he and Trea and a colleague had troubles with Harvey Weinstein over the film studio my daughter had established in England with Miramax and Disney, Colin, furious at Weinstein's continual breach of the contract, deftly made a favorable settlement. Trea works occasionally on films with Colin but her major work is keeping up with and guiding the three girls, Amelia, born in 1990, and the two younger twins, Matilda and Kate, born in 2000. Kate is impulsive, willful, mentally fast, pouty at times and when crossed can fly into a "meltdown" that shatters glass. Trea says Kate's just like me.
Oh, my God! Not two of us!
Soon after I quit the Met I was fortunate to be able to sign on with one of the best literary agents in the country, Robert Lescher. Bob took my Tut manuscript and edited it word for word.
Partly because the manuscript had been edited so well and partly because the Tut show was breaking records across the country, it was picked up by Simon and Schuster for a $150,000 advance. Their cracker-jack editor, Alice Mathew, bought it and prepared it for publication.
I wrote the book because of a blunder on the part of the Metropolitan's editor. While organizing the show, I read all of Howard Carter's accounts and had become suspicious of his actions when he discovered the sealed door of the tomb inscribed with Tut's name. He described how he had opened up a hole in the door to the tomb and accompanied by patron Lord Carnarvon and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, had simply looked in with a torch, seen "wonderful things!" sealed up the hole and waited several days for the Egyptian authorities to show up -- the legal thing to do.
I didn't buy it. When I read the account a third time I had one of my flashes and saw something no one else had spotted. I realized that Carter described several works that he could not possibly have seen looking through the small hole -- they were below his opening and would have been invisible. That suggested to me that the party had gone in that very night.
The Egyptians had thrown Howard Carter out of the tomb -- and from Egypt -- because of his highhandedness. He had lectured throughout Canada and the States and had worked at the Metropolitan's Egyptian department for some months before being allowed to return to the Valley of the Kings.
I had another hunch -- maybe he'd left some material at his desk in the Egyptian department. I went to the place he had worked and there on a shelf, untouched since the mid-1920s, was a batch of his papers and letters and in them ample proof of my theory. In some of the papers Carter admitted to entering the chamber with his patrons and staying inside for hours, examining every part of the underground treasure trove. There was even a list of Tut works he had spirited out of Egypt in a false bottom of a camera case. I also came across letters that indicated he might be having a discreet affair with Lord Carnarvon’s daughter, Lady Evelyn.
I found some scandalous stuff about the Metropolitan, too. Carter described a secret agreement with the Met's Egyptian curator, Herbert Winlock. If the Met would help him clear the tomb and send the Met's archaeological photographer, Harry Burton, to make a minute-by-minute record of the finds, he would give to the Met half of Lord Carnarvon’s share. Under existing Egyptian law, the finders could take half of a pillaged royal tomb. I also discovered that Carter had made it look like the thieves had been more active than they seemed.
I asked the Met's editor to put all this sensational material in the Tut show official catalogue, but she refused. She had come to admire Howard Carter excessively and didn't want his reputation besmirched. She also was reluctant to see the Met look bad for its shady deal. She stiffly told me she had no desire to make the exhibition catalogue into a "tabloid."
I made copies of everything I'd found in the Carter documents and reported to the executive committee of the board of my intention to use the stuff in a book. I received the committee's approval.
My book, Tutankhamen, The Untold Story, hit the New York Times national bestseller list and stayed there for eleven weeks in various slots. My financial ass was saved.
I signed on with the very lecture bureau Howard Carter had used for his American tour and criss-crossed the country. My lecture was wild and very entertaining. My slides included the spectacular color photos my friend the photographer Lee Boltin had made for the catalogue interspersed with splendid black and whites taken on the spot in 1922 by Burton. I had about two hundred of them and would punch them up rapidly in a sort of cinematic presentation. The house would erupt when I showed them the child king's gold penis sheath and the item place near his heart, a tiny child's toy solid steel knife, the rarest material ever in Pharoanic times.
I laced my lecture with my personal experiences in Cairo when I was picking the objects. When I had arrived at the Cairo museum in 1974 to supervise the making of the photos and the reproductions, I learned to my distress that the oft-promised electricity had not been installed. I called the head of the sound and light show at the Pyramids, Fuad el Orabi, a man I knew could get things done, and begged his help -- for a fat consultancy, naturally. He called back and instructed me to be at the street behind the museum at eleven the same night. I went there with several aides. A truck pulled up and Fuad jumped out. Several laborers rolled a huge wheel of electrical cable onto the sidewalk near a street lamp. They dug and exposed the lamp's wires.
"Fuad, you can't hot splice your wire into that!" I cried out.
He smiled. At once all the lights in that part of Cairo turned off, the men spliced the 220-volt wires, tossed the wheel and the cable over the wall of the museum. The lights came on again. Next morning the cable was run up the side of the building, through the skylight and into the empty gallery where we had established our studios and was attached to our lights and voltage regulators.
My lectures provided us with a steady income and I developed other subjects such as "Connoisseurship," "Collecting in the Big Time" and "Fakes."
I wrote much of Tutankhamen, The Untold Story at a rustic table in my backyard in a rented cottage on Quaker Hill. After I had been made associate curator of the museum, Nancy and I had rented a place so as not to get in the Bell's way. We moved into a rental in 1965 and went there weekends and the summer for more than twenty-five years. Our landlords were John and Liz Allen.
John, now deceased, was a senior editor at the Reader's Digest and a close confidant to both Lila and "Wally" Wallace. Liz, a local dynamo and super-mother of three fabulous kids, is the youngest daughter of the preacher and inspirational writer Norman Vincent Peale. Both John and Liz became our closest friends. John was instrumental in giving me some critical advice, not only while I was at the Met but in many aspects of my zigzag life for many years afterwards. I have never encountered such a sweet, hearty, intelligent, funny and wise man in my life.
In 1976 Pauline Vandervoort Steese Dresser Rogers Hoving succumbed to a stroke and could not move a limb. I knew how to get a reaction from her, so Nancy and I sneaked one of our cats into her room at Lenox Hill hospital. I placed kitty on her lap and the near-comatose woman slowly dragged one arm across her chest until she felt the cat's fur. Then, with her eyes closed, she broke into a beatific grin.
About a week later Pauline died of old age. I got to the hospital before my father. I hugged my hated stepmother tightly and had a good cry. I told her the true story about the watch ring and begged her forgiveness. But she, of course, couldn’t hear a word. When my father came in and saw me, he hugged me and we cried in each other’s arms. I didn’t have the guts to tell him the truth about the ring.
Just as I had predicted, several face-lifted, bottle-blond gold-diggers besieged my father. But he managed to escape and married the lovely and sweet Jane Pickens Langley. She was famous for being a member along with her two sisters of the a cappella group, the Pickens Sisters, during World War II. Jane was also rich as hell and owned a flat in Manhattan and a gracious house on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island.
My father asked me to be his best man and I accepted with delight.
Once again he became something not too far from the loving "diplodocus" of my childhood. And, when he had a mini-stroke, he never invoked the name of Jesus Christ again. God works in amusing ways.
In time my father and I became warm friends until he passed away at ninety-two. He had brought me back on the Tiffany board after Pauline died. I had been on before but had been thrown off after the New Yorker profiler, John McPhee, had written a piece on me entitled "A Roomful of Hovings." I had, my father said, "aired too much family laundry in public to serve as a Tiffany director."
When I was allowed back, I was the only director of Tiffany’s who fought hard to prevent him from selling the store and its illustrious name to Avon, the tawdry door-to-door cosmetics company. But he brandished a letter from the "distinguished" chairman of Avon's board stating that Walter could stay on as CEO as long as he liked and that the high standards he had created would always be maintained.
I protested, "This is the 'Ding-dong-Avon calling' guy, father. This is bullshit." But my Dad archly told me the pledge was in writing. I laughed. He sold. In two months Walter Hoving, the Prince of Retailers, was out on the street. He was eighty-one, had never planned for retirement and went into a tizzy. He was saved only by his new wife and Nancy and me who worked like hell to keep his spirits up.
When he was ninety-two, he called from the Newport hospital.
"You are being recorded. My doctors and my lawyer here are on the phone with me."
"I have decided to leave this earth."
"Are you ill?"
"No. I feel fine physically. But I feel I am -- you know when I get forgetful -- unkind to Jane."
"I don't believe it."
"Anyway, I have decided."
"By not eating or drinking. Now, to business. Say to my doctor and lawyer that, as executor to my estate. . . ."
"This is new."
"Don't interrupt. As executor you will not yourself or let anyone else extend my life in any way with any of those tubes and things."
"Don't do this," I protested. But nothing I could say could sway this Swede from his intention. Finally, I swore to do what he wanted. I went to Newport and in four days Walter Hoving, still looking like a matinee idol at 92, passed peacefully away. His dear Jane died a year later. Jane had graciously chosen to let my father's money go straight to Petie and me. I agreed that my father give my sister three-quarters of the estate because of her three kids and so I picked up a modest but welcome quarter.
The strong heart of my surrogate father Elliott Bell gave way, as he was begging it to, when he was 87, for he had been confined to a wheelchair and then to bed for some years. He died in his beloved Quaker Hill house. Amelia Bell's cunning mind was sharp until the day before she passed away quietly at ninety-six in her bed in the same bedroom at home with not a hint of pain although she had cancer.
It was Thanksgiving morning and my wife did her typical thing. She called the local funeral home but told them since there was a big football game on; they didn't have to come until after it was over.
We toasted Amelia's memory at our midday Thanksgiving lunch in the dining room downstairs directly under her bedroom. And had a good cry. Fortunately our daughter Trea, her husband Colin Leventhal and their new baby named Amelia were with us.
The income from the Bell estates was sufficient to give us our ultimate slice of fuck-you money and I wondered if Nancy had suspected it when she had laughed at the "richer or poorer" vow when we were married.
Nancy cleverly took the meager Metropolitan retirement funds, invested them intelligently, incorporated Hoving Associates and became the secretary of the company. She had the money sense in the family along with a talent for making clever investments. My Met secretary, Cecilia Mescall, joined us. She recognized that, after me, would come the deluge sweeping her away. The elitist Met crowd had always found her Brooklyn accent and blunt personality below the salt. Even Douglas Dillon had been miffed at times at my tough, wisecracking non-toadying Cecilia.
She made duplicate files of every piece of paperwork during my ten-year tenure, which turned out to be invaluable when writing about my Met years. When she retired to Mexico, we found a junior Cecilia in the lovely and indomitable Mary Ann Lyden, who laughed along with us when we succeeded and cried with us when things went bad.
Running a consultancy company is like organized chaos. Ninety percent of the time I was frantically trying to round up new clients while I was working for three or so. It was a shock to lose my Met perks -- the immense expense accounts, the first-class passage, the suites in the Ritz in Paris or the Imperial in Vienna and cars to whisk me everywhere. On my first trip to London for Hoving Associates I stayed in a dump of a hotel and had to book standby on the plane. Luckily both Nancy and I had never gotten addicted to the high life.
After leaving the Met, I enjoyed a brief cordial relationship with the museum, especially with Philippe de Montebello, who knew I had recommended him to succeed me. De Montebello asked me to check out a Carolingian ivory of the Ada group depicting John the Evangelist coming up at auction, one that hadn’t yet been found when I was writing my awful Ph.D. thesis. It was doubted by some specialists because the Latin inscription over his head seemed to be a garbled quote from the Bible. But I found out, mainly through Kurt Weitzman, that the inscription was from a 5th century poet. I spread rumors around the field that it might be a fake because of the biblical "misquote." Every institution interested -- especially some German museums -- believed me and dropped out of contention. All's fair in love and collecting. The rare ivory is on view at The Cloisters.
When my "Tut" book hit the best-seller lists, I received cool receptions from Met curators, especially those in the Egyptian department. The guards, who had always liked me, would rush up to chat when I entered the place -- Filippo Sufia being the first in line. Certain members of the staff who also liked me would come to greet me, too.
When I published King of the Confessors, in which I admitted to smuggling the Annunciation relief out of Italy and other crimes of collecting passion, the relationship got colder. When I became the editor of Connoisseur magazine and started doing investigative pieces on art museums, the relationship got glacial. I interviewed de Montebello and asked him why he was criticizing blockbusters, he said, "That's a ruse. I'm going to say I don't like them, but will mount more of them than you ever did."
When I asked him why he was accepting so many second-rate paintings by the School of Paris and building an overly expensive wing to house them when MoMA had so much better stuff, he said, "Tom, I'm a cynic. I just want the donors to be happy and then maybe I'll get real money for other projects."
I didn't have much to do with my old colleague after that. Nor he with me.
Relationships plunged to twenty below after Mummies. That's when the Met in-house lawyer compiled a list of my "lies." The temperature plummeted to absolute zero in the mid-2000s when I helped a community group stop dead in its tracks de Montebello’s ill-advised scheme to expand the museum's footprint under Fifth Avenue at unconscionable expense. At a community planning board hearing at the Met I announced that, unknown to all and even the Parks Commissioner Henry Stern who had approved the new scheme, the museum’s board of trustees had unanimously voted to give up all future expansion for the right to build the master plan of 1970.
I've been asked many times how de Montebello was doing and have generally avoided answering. I did praise Philippe for buying the fifty-million-dollar Duccio di Buoninsegna Madonna and sent him a laudatory email when he cut the deal with the Italian government to return the Euphronios vase in exchange for a series of loans.
As I have written in the first chapter, I played a role in the return of the vase. One of the chiefs of the powerful Patrimonio Artistico, Carabinieri Maresciallo Angelo Ragusa, came to New York to urge me to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that the vendor of the vase, Robert Hecht, had agreed with that he had sold us a smuggled intact krater but had substituted the history and documents of another that had been legally out of Italy for decades. I had figured out his clever ruse when writing Mummies.
At the end of our business I advised Ragusa to share the vase. That's why I wasn't completely surprised when I heard several weeks later that Philippe had agreed to such an exchange.
But when de Montebello heard that I had been helping the Carabinieri, he hissed at me, "Tom, you used to be so good!"
I took it as a backhanded compliment.
Museum consultancies for Hoving Associates were few and far between because I was looked upon something as a pariah for my efforts to open the Met up to all people and for my de-accessions. A friend who ran the Flagler Museum in Florida recommended me to vet Philip Johnson’s working drawings of for a proposed art museum in Miami. I quickly found that Johnson had failed to supply any air-conditioning ducts throughout the entire vast structure. My discovery saved a great deal of money although it did stall the opening for some time.
When clients were slim it was the book writing that kept our little corporation afloat. After the success of The Untold Story and King of the Confessors, editor Alice Mayhew allowed me to write two novels.
The first was Masterpiece, an art thriller and love story about the tangled relationships between male director of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Andrew Foster, and the female director of the Metropolitan, Olivia Cartwright. They fall in love while competing for a painting by Diego Velazquez.
I patterned Olivia after me and Andrew after my old nemesis-friend J. Carter Brown of the real National Gallery. For dramatic effect I invented a gorgeous, brilliant, three-foot tall mentor of Olivia's, Don Ciccio by name. I won’t tell here to tell who won it and how but it is devious and I think pretty good stuff. The book is still listed for sale on Amazon.com.
Don Ciccio played a major role in my second novel, Discovery. This involved the discovery of an entirely intact Villa at Herculaneum, filled with scrolls and books with the secrets of the ancients, glittering treasures ranging from gold bullion to silver dinnerware which was the envy of the ancient world, even women's' clothing and cosmetics and such. In other words "Tut" to the tenth power. The ending was the discovery of a diary written by Jesus Christ.
The first novel had a decent sale but Discovery bombed. I have written outlines for two subsequent novels and the full manuscript for another but found no publishers. Quite right, too, I believe on re-reading them.
Alice Mayhew and her colleague Michael Korda at Simon and Schuster suggested I write a book about art fakes. That became False Impressions, The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes, in which I presented a general history of the game, told my favorite stories about buying or avoiding buying forgeries and, finally, some profiles of the special breed of art-historical cat, the "fakebusters," as I called them. Those people, like me, who can tell something is awry in a work of art in a thousandth of a second. The book did well. It, too, can be found on Amazon.com.
One of the "fakebusters" I profiled was Margarita Guarducci, a Roman specialist who had condemned the so-called 5th century B.C. throne in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts as a fake. The three-sided sculpture decorated with figures was claimed by Boston's experts to be a mate to a marvelous Greek sculpture in Rome called the Ludovisi Throne.
I believed Guarducci's arguments to be valid until two years ago when for the first time in my life I looked at the Boston Throne in the flesh. In a flash, I knew Guarducci was wrong and the throne was absolutely authentic. That evening I called Cornelius Vermeule, the retired curator of Greek and Roman who had always defended Boston's sculpture, and told him of my stupidity in never having actually examined the object. "Corny" replied, "Hoving, you are about the only S.O.B. in the business who would have the guts to admit it."
On a visit to Santa Fe I met a talented young Hopi-Tewa painter and sculptor, Dan Namingha. I watched him grow as an artist over several years and was delighted when I was able to write a monograph about him and his works. As I had done with my Conversations with Andrew Wyeth, I let Namingha tell me about each one of his key works. It is one of my best books.
I was asked by Workman Press to choose what I thought were the finest works in Western civilization and I wrote Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization.
That one starts with an introduction: "One early morning of an exceptionally beautiful day I got the idea of retracing every step of my life as an art expert -- from 1951 -- and writing down the works of art that had bowled me over visually and emotionally, the ones that after years I could describe down to the tiniest details. These are the ones that changed my life, the ones I believe to be the pinnacles of quality, elegance, and artistic strength, the best mankind has created, the hallmarks of unalloyed genius."
I selected one hundred and eleven -- One, One, One -- of superior essence. The book sold through.
After that I produced the entire history of art and Connoisseurship in Art for Dummies, a book on Grant Wood's American Gothic and, in 2005, a game book, Master Pieces. This I did with two talented and dynamic women, Lori Stein and Kate Learson, who approached me with the idea. I said, hey, that's the curator's game I used to play at coffee in the Met café and wrote the delightful game book with them.
These along with a hundred or so columns and articles for various magazines, principally, Connoisseur.
Many Hoving Associates' projects fizzled out. The finest fizzle came after a man by the name of Jerome Lawton entered my life. He was a lawyer and the president of a design company, Design Group, a part of the Greyhound Corporation. I had come across Jerry first at the Met. He had been hired to build the Centennial "1200" show about that glowing moment in medieval art when artists strove to depict the human figure in dramatic motion. The week before the exhibition opened, I had walked into the galleries and was amazed to see the glass cases floating in the air. I asked how they were attached. This handsome bald young man with startling dark eyes dressed immaculately in a blue suit piped up, "Magnets. We installed magnets in the ceiling."
In 1979 Lawton again burst into my life. He called to ask if I'd talk with him about becoming a member of a team he was assembling to work on a variety of projects in Egypt, including the renovation of the Cairo Museum, a new museum at Sakkara and a series of loan shows.
I met him a few days later in New York and became partners, dear friends (and, occasionally, a pair of stand-up comedians -- only that he was always the funnier one). I have seldom encountered a more intelligent and ethical human being. He is adept in such oddly diverse worlds as architectural design, the law and real estate. He is elegant and handsome as hell, possessing an attractive swarthy complexion that looks faintly Middle-Eastern -- explained I guess by the fact that he is a Brooklyn-born Jewish kid (with parents who sure knew how to bring up a solid citizen). We worked on stuff as diverse as the Egypt projects, an exhibition of Jim Henson's Muppets and a lamentable legal affair in which I had stupidly entangled myself. Only because of his deft and benevolent legal work did I emerge only slightly damaged. As part of the settlement, I am enjoined for life from discussing the matter, which is a relief because I don't have to reveal the true depths of my stupidity.
At our New York meeting he told me how he had gained the post of being the design consultant for the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.
"One afternoon I was reading an article about a million bucks given to the Cairo Museum by Mrs. Lila Wallace to clean it up. But after the money was spent, the museum fell back into its normal dingy condition. It occurred to me that a series of traveling Egyptian exhibitions could raise enough money to fix up the Cairo Museum and even others and school the administrators to keep it that way.
"I picked up the telephone and reached Mohammed Hakki, a terrific official in the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and briefed him about my idea and he said I should meet with the all-powerful head of the Organization of Antiquities in Cairo, His Excellency Fuad el-Orabi."
"Fuad's the best," I cried out. "He saved my ass by getting electricity to the museum for us to photograph the Tut works."
"Design Group was doing the casework for a Nubian show at the Brooklyn Museum and I asked director Michael Botwinick if I could come with him to Cairo. The Nubian list was already made up and the protocol was a formality.
"But. When we got to Cairo and arrived in the lobby of the Hilton, there was a message waiting for Michael from el-Orabi telling Michael he would not sign the protocol; the loan was off. I said, 'Why don't we just call them and go over there?’ He said 'First; the phones don't work and second, you need to make an official appointment for a meeting, you don't just show up.'
"I said: 'Michael, you write the note, I'm going over.' When I arrived at Orabi's office, his secretary asked if I had an appointment. I told her I didn't but had traveled all the way from the U.S. to see him and would appreciate her telling him that I was here. Intrigued to see what kind of jerk would be so audacious, he agreed to see me. In three minutes. He was sitting in a huge office with two other meetings going on at the same time. For whatever reason -- perhaps because we are both balding and dark -- he dismissed the others and asked, "Why are you here?"
"I asked, 'Why is the protocol with the Brooklyn Museum off?'
He replied testily that the curator of Egyptian art at Brooklyn had insulted him.
"That's no longer a problem; I will speak to Michael Botwinick and make it possible that you need never see the curator again. Then I told him about my idea for the rehabilitation of the Cairo Museum. He said, "come to the residential Rest House this evening, we will sign the Nubian show protocol and I want you to meet the Minister of Culture."
"That evening, we were on television at the rest house announcing the protocol. The Minister of Culture, Abdel Monem El Sawi, asked me to come and see him the following day in his office. I told him about my idea for the Cairo Museum. He liked the idea and asked me whether I would be interested in doing other projects in Egypt. I said I would be glad to act as a cultural planning and design consultant to the ministry. He asked me if I would stay in Cairo for another week and represent Egypt at a UNESCO conference on the Cairo Museum and other cultural sites. I did and following that, Design Group was hired by the Ministry of Culture.
"On my way back from Cairo, it occurred to me that because of Tut you were the most able person I could think of to help make the project team a success."
"Count me in!" I cried.
I was soon back in Cairo with Jerry and I.M. Pei, the brilliant architect he had hired to do the Sakkara job. I.M. was thrilled, for it was his first visit to the fabled land. He was deeply moved when he first visited Sakkara, the first architecture in recorded history designed by Imhotep.
Pei came up with an inventive concept to place a museum underground at Sakkara and Fuad loved it. I.M. became so entranced with the pyramid shape that he used it in many later works, works that were built like the Louvre and the Kennedy Library. We hired the fine firm of Hardy, Holzmann and Pfieffer and the designer Charles Froom to do the Coptic Museum. Again, Fuad was ecstatic.
Our participation in the re-do of the Cairo Museum was abruptly killed when we were ordered to appear at the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington. A dour, unsmiling minion by the name of Stokes Talbot demanded curtly we get our hands off the museum; it was his project. We surrendered. Neither Talbot nor the World Bank ever did a thing and the Cairo Museum is still the ramshackle, dilapidated old warehouse with acres of broken skylights and dusty vitrines filled with grand treasures and hundreds of dead flies as it has been for fifty or more years. I have the chutzpah to believe we could have made a big difference. There is the promise that a new museum complex will soon be built at Gizeh, supplanting the old pile.
I sometimes think that the Cairo Museum renovation, not Tut, has a curse hanging over it. The revenues of the Tut exhibition came to nearly eight million dollars which was presented in 1979 to the then-president of the antiquities organization by Dan Herrick, the chief financial officer of the Met accompanied by the vice-president of Coopers and Lybrand, the accountant for the show. That president of antiquities, whose identity is unknown to me had, according to Herrick, only one thing to say about this largesse, "Where the money from the tee-shirts?"
Those millions literally vanished. Recently, when the "Tut and the Pharaohs" exhibition opened in Los Angeles the current president of antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, justified the high admissions fees of twenty dollars because Egypt had received no moneys from the first show. Since Hawass was working at the organization of antiquities when the check was delivered, it makes me wonder if something has been covered up.
Jerry and I had wonderful -- and frustrating -- times in Cairo even though we were one of the few foreign firms actually to receive any moneys. One of our Egyptian capers caused a kerfuffle at U.S. Customs in New York City. We had been contracted to design the Egyptian and Chinese pavilions for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Jerry's idea was to make three-inch tall glass replicas of the Great Pyramid and fill them with sand from the base of the pyramid. We filled three Samsonite suitcases with Gizeh sand and one started leaking just as he was dragging the bags to customs in New York. The thin line of white substance trailing after him caused a near riot. When it was determined that the substance was not cocaine but Gizeh sand the officials could not stop laughing and one of them even put in an order for a glass pyramid.
Our Egyptian enterprise fell apart after Fuad el-Orabi resigned his post and was replaced by a mean-minded bureaucrat by the name of Ahmed Khadry.
In our first meeting we presented him with our plans for the Coptic Museum, but he never bothered to glance at them. Khadry kept muttering something about lodging charges against us for financial shenanigans even as Jerry walked him through the expenditure of every penny. He planned to have us investigated for misuse of government funds unless we returned a goodly slice of what we'd recently been paid.
At the end of the meeting he said, "I know you think of me as a simple, little village person. I was born in a simple village, but sometimes little village people can cause quite a bit of trouble."
The meeting was over.
Jerry and I went straight to our bank. We took out sufficient Egyptian pounds to pay for our three-week stay at the Cairo Hilton leaving twenty pounds or so in the account. We went straight to the hotel. Impulsively I threw the contents of the bag containing our pounds into the air and we hysterically ran around in a snowstorm of Egyptian money. We gathered up the money, packed, paid our bill, went to the airport and got the first flight out of the country.
As the jet lifted off, Jerry Lawton remarked, "Am I nuts or did you also have the feeling that Ahmed Kahdry didn't like us?"This is chapter 28 of Artful Tom, A Memoir, which is being posted in full in Artnet Magazine. For the complete book to date, click here.