Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Dr. Moriarty of the Art World

Chapter 31 of Thomas Hoving's Artful Tom recaps his long-running feud with the Getty. Hoving is one of the great masters of the "no one else was in the room" snark reported verbatim. For that reason opinion differs on where exactly he falls within the James Frey continuum of creative memoir-writing. In any case, this chapter is indispensible reading for anyone interested in the history of L.A. museology. Among Hoving's more amusing characterizations is that of Norton Simon. A few things you may not have known:

• "Once on the phone [Simon] spoke to me in a bizarre falsetto, explaining, 'My shrink wants me to break free from my macho, commanding voice.'"

• Hoving says Simon tried to bribe him to call off his Getty muckraking in Connoisseur magazine.

"I am trying to work out a deal between the Getty and you," Simon said. "The possibility of buying Connoisseur and you being the head guy here. We’d make a commitment on ads and other ways to support the magazine. And we’d make some editorial changes, too, especially about the Getty."

Simon hinted at a Simon-Getty collaboration or merger — with a role for Hoving?

"If I go to Harold Williams and say so, he’ll support what I want. Your pay would not be money alone; it would come in other, positive means. We’ve talked about how southern California can become the world art mecca. That’s it. You will be the head guy. The Getty has a few billion now. And may never get old masters except through me. A positive series of things. Getting our minds together."

But when Hoving reported this very private conversation in Connoisseur, Simon told the New York Times: "What Tom Hoving told you about what we discussed is not the truth."

• Walter Annenberg on Norton Simon: "He’s the Dr. Moriarty of the art world… He’s very, very dangerous."

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