Towering Figures, Tumbling Walls

Hosted by

at090929a.jpgAnyone who had the good fortune to know Henry Hopkins (1928-2009), a seminal figure on the California art scene for the last fifty years, would probably agree that he was the epitome of what we call a gentleman scholar. Even at crowded museum openings, one could always spot Henry – tall, imposing, impeccably dressed – charming everyone with his courtly manners.

The sad news about his death at the age of 81 appeared today in a Los Angeles Times obituary, which included deeply felt responses from many prominent museum and university colleagues. Hopkins' museum career started in 1961, when he joined the staff of what later became the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Then, in 1968, he became the director of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where he stayed for six years before moving in 1975 to northern California to head the future San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

at090929b.jpgI met Henry for the first time in the mid 80’s, when he returned to Los Angeles to head the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation. Knowing my Russian background, which included a stint at the Hermitage Museum, he asked if I could help him with an upcoming trip to Leningrad and give him some insider information about people and places there. Ten years later, he got in touch with me again, this time as director of the Hammer Museum. He was planning a trip to Russia for museum patrons and trustees and gingerly asked me if I would agree to return there for the first time since my emigration almost twenty years earlier.

at090929d.jpgReluctantly, I accepted his invitation, but on one condition – that most of our time in Leningrad would be spent at the Hermitage Museum, getting to know its vast collection and meeting with its director and curators. So when I think about Henry Hopkins, I remember him as the person who broke through my wall of resistance to anything related to the Soviet Union. And I'm very grateful to him for the chance to see my old stomping ground through the lens of my new life in America. I also hope that the book about California art that Henry was working on in the last few years was almost finished. The publication of this book would be a wonderful testament to Henry Hopkins' lifelong dedication to art and culture.

at090929c.jpgThese days in LA, the legacy of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, and the Soviet Union is very much in the air. After a successful run at LACMA, the critically acclaimed exhibition The Art of Two Germanys, curated by our own Stephanie Barron, has traveled to Nuremberg and now is ready to open in Berlin this weekend. Tonight, the Hammer Museum is hosting an event commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Co-presented by the Wende Museum of Culver City, a museum devoted to the Cold War, the event features two distinguished speakers, the former U.S. ambassador to the German Democratic Republic, and German director Florian von Donnersmarck, who won an Oscar for his 2007 film, The Lives of Others.

at090929e.jpgAnd if that's not enough, wait until November 8, when, shortly before midnight, several large sections of the Berlin Wall will be installed here, near LACMA, blocking traffic across Wilshire Boulevard. But at midnight, it will be dismantled in commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, an event that dramatically changed the course of history. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!," demanded President Reagan years before this finally happened. One hopes that when the current administration makes its own forceful demands of our most troubling adversaries, the walls they're hiding behind will tumble in a similarly nonviolent fashion – and let's pray that it happens in years rather than decades.

Escape Routes: Experiencing the Opening of the Berlin Wall and the End of an Era
Co-presented with the Wende Museum
7:00pm, Tuesday, September 29 at the Hammer Museum

The Wall Project, a civic commemoration and series of public art events marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall

Banner image: The Berlin Wall