Tom Hoving

I’ve spent the day reading Tom Hoving’s book Making the Mummies Dance, about his time as Director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1967 to 1977.   I was offered a copy when I first went to the National Gallery as a primer in how not to be a museum director (the person who offered it made clear her utter disdain).   But I now wish I had read it then because it actually gives a good and interesting account of his intemperate reformist zeal, looking at ways of encouraging more people into the museum and how they might actually enjoy it.   There were two things I found particularly interesting, neither of which I knew:  the first is that it was Hoving, helped by his architects, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, who introduced the front steps to the Museum, abolishing an automobile drop-off, in order to create the democratic experience of people sitting on the steps outside and making the museum look and feel more physically accessible (Ed Jones wanted to do the same at the National Gallery, but got no encouragement);  and the second is that it was under Hoving that the Met’s distinctive form of semi-compulsory charging was introduced whereby cash registers were introduced to receive what was intended to be a genuinely voluntary (but psychologically compulsory) charge.   I’ve always thought that Hoving was excoriated by the museum community, but he definitely left the Met a much more lively place than it was under Rorimer.

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