The Menil Collection Opens The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps

Exhibition features recent and promised gifts that spotlight the Houston museum’s history of deep relationships with artists, highlighting the career of the Menil’s Founding Director Walter Hopps

The Menil Collection opened The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps on March 24, 2023 featuring some 130 artworks by seventy artists, many of which are recent or promised gifts to the museum from Caroline Huber and the Estate of Walter Hopps.

The show will explore the influential curatorial vision of the Menil Collection’s Founding Director Walter Hopps (1932–2005) and his appreciation for art from the 1930s to the early 2000s.

The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps will be on view at the Menil through August 13, 2023 and coincides with the publication of Artists We’ve Known: Selected Works from the Walter Hopps and Caroline Huber Collection, which highlights works by fifty artists with whom the couple was close.

On Thursday, April 13, 7–8 p.m., artist Robert Longo will visit to speak about his large-scale work Master Jazz, 1982-83, on view in the exhibition.

Once dubbed “the marvelous mad maven of modern art in America,” Hopps estimated that he had curated some 250 exhibitions in his fifty-plus year-long career.

He started out in Los Angeles where, in 1952, he organized his first shows while still in college and a few years later opened the Ferus Gallery with artist Edward Kienholz. He was appointed director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) in 1964 and went on to serve as the director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and as the curator of modern art at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), both in Washington, D.C.

Hopps met John de Menil while curating an exhibition on Jasper Johns for the Pasadena Art Museum in the late 1960s and met Dominique de Menil in 1971 at an opening for a Barnett Newman exhibition in New York City. In 1980, she invited Hopps to direct the museum she and John had built at Rice University and to join the board of the Menil Foundation. The following year, Hopps was appointed Founding Director of the Menil Collection, a museum that opened to public in 1987.

Rebecca Rabinow, Director, The Menil Collection, said, “The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps and the Menil Collection’s new publication Artists We’ve Known celebrate a promised gift of nearly 600 works to the museum from Menil Foundation trustee Caroline Huber and the Estate of Walter Hopps. While Director of the Menil, Hopps worked with Dominique de Menil to curate landmark exhibitions of artists Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Edward Kienholz, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. She deeply valued his ‘infallible eye’ and ‘understanding of current trends.’ Two years after the museum opened, Hopps relinquished his directorial role so that he could return to his true love: working with artists and curating exhibitions.”

Clare Elliott, Associate Research Curator, The Menil Collection, said, “This exhibition explores the achievements of one of the most talented and influential curators of the 20th century. The wide scope of Hopps’s interests and his embrace of artworks across forms and styles are demonstrated in the range of movements and media on display. On view are artists like Jay DeFeo, Sam Gilliam, and William Eggleston, as well as figures who remain underrecognized today like Gretchen Bender, Louis Faurer, and Carroll Sockwell.”

The related publication, Artists We’ve Known: Selected Works from the Walter Hopps and Caroline Huber Collection, highlights 53 works from the couple’s personal collection that have been gifted to the Menil, many of which will be on view in this exhibition. The book is available for purchase at the Menil Collection Bookstore and online at

Photos: V. Sweeten