Thomas Hoving has a secret.
Actually, he has lots of them.
But there's one in particular that the former director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (from '67 to '77) won't share at the moment. Not yet, at least. Not until Thursday evening, when he takes the stage at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center SaGaJi Theatre to do his part in the FAC's "Extremely Grand Opening."
Still, Hoving's a smart man he knows how to whet a palate. Though he won't specifically reveal his mysterious message, he will allude to it.
"I'm going to give the audience the secret way to become a connoisseur," he says. "In 10 minutes."
OK. Then we'll be sure to listen.
After all, if there's anyone qualified to share such insights, it's Hoving. While at the Met, he brought to the States, among other artifacts, the famed tomb of King Tut. With it, he inspired the whole idea of the traveling blockbuster exhibit something that, until his influence, had never been attempted in America.
He's also a marketing genius. When he arrived at the Met, he cut up old parachutes to create the huge banners that adorned the museum's entrance, announcing current exhibits. He's also largely acknowledged as the first museum director to use critical praise in the same vein as Hollywood uses it in quotes and placed in a prime spot on poster ads.
Basically, the guy's legit.
Plus, along with 23 other books, Hoving wrote Art for Dummies. So it's fair to say he knows how to speak to all sorts of crowds on the topic of art even stoopids like us!
Indy: FAC President/CEO Michael De Marsche speaks pretty highly of you, and rightfully so. But what's the relationship there?
TH: I met Michael De Marsche a number of years ago, and we got to be very friendly and he'd admired some of my things and some of my books and it was just one of those relationships. And it worked out very well. He knew what I had done at the Metropolitan and liked it, so he kinda patterned some of the things his good things after the things that I lucked out on. So we got to be quite friendly. He's a dynamo.
Indy: Have you seen the fliers that the FAC has been putting out about this re-opening? What're your thoughts on it all? Isn't it a bit over the top, calling it "the greatest arts event in the history of Colorado Springs" before it even happens?
TH: I've seen all the fliers. I haven't seen the building. But, hey, why not [say those things]? Call it the bloody extreme thing. Go all out the farthest out. Sure. It's all in fun. Compared to al-Qaeda, it's kind of fun, right?
Indy: Well, what other advice would you give the FAC?
TH: My biggest piece of advice to them is to build a constituency, which means grade school. Start in grade school and have it so attractive that the grade school people will do anything to rush to the museum, away from grade school. And you can do that: You can make a museum so fascinating, so interesting, starting very young. Because very young kids don't read. They don't know how. Their visual acuity is intense. You grab them then. It's easy, they get it, they retain it and it's a hugely exciting part of their life.
Indy: Yeah, but it seems like the FAC is going the opposite route, with its opening and the routes they took in fundraising for the building ...
TH: That's OK, but it's a slight mistake. Start with the children particularly the rich children. They're still rich people. From those ranks come the board members.
Indy: But you need the money first, right? So you can actually build the building?
TH: The biggest contribution I ever got was $362 million in one smack from a woman I had lunch with every Wednesday at a fashionable New York club. We drank martinis and laughed and never mentioned any money. And that was 1982! Today that's worth ... a billion? Who knows? But I didn't ever ask her for money. If you raise money, you won't get it. If you do things that excite people, you'll get a lot of money over the transfer.
Indy: Can the FAC legitimately expect to be a big draw for national exhibits, though? Ones that do excite people?
TH: Why not? It goes to San Jose, California. The Louvre sends stuff to Atlanta. The trend, the growing sweep of the future in museums, is not to own so much stuff but to get on long-term loan and make agreements with another institution someplace, you know?
Indy: The FAC seems to have that in mind, given its new design. Still, should the museum worry about the Denver Art Museum being so close by?
TH: Baltimore gets fantastic shows and that's 45 minutes from downtown Washington, DC. Philadelphia gets fantastic shows and it's halfway between Washington and New York. It's two hours between both, right? Denver's no further than Philadelphia to Washington or New York and they get great shows that the Met doesn't and the National Gallery doesn't. There's many, many shows going around and the museum schedules are such that there's always room for one more. It's all about [the show space]. Less about money. Once the plant is there, it's astoundingly easy.
Indy: Anything else to add?
TH: With this new thing? It's a whole different chapter in a long series of volumes, without which they could not have turned the page and added the new volume. Couldn't!
Thomas Hoving's "The Artful Tommy" lecture
Thursday, Aug. 2, 7 p.m.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center SaGaJi Theatre, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $45 to $49, visit csfineartscenter.org. (A separate reception with Hoving will commence after this lecture. Tickets for that event cost $30 to $34.)