Times Art Writer

Henry T. Hopkins, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has resigned his post to direct the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation of Art in Los Angeles, The Times has learned.

Effective Nov. 1, the veteran administrator will head the foundation that is expected to turn the historic Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills into a museum for modern and contemporary art.

Hopkins, 57, made the surprise announcement Thursday morning in a board of directors meeting at the museum. “I just told the directors about my decision 10 minutes ago and they have accepted my resignation,” Hopkins said in a telephone interview.


“I’ve been at the museum for 12 years, and I was ready for a change. All the challenges of the foundation (building the art collection, planning touring exhibitions and developing educational programs) are just too much for an old war horse like me to resist. I like challenges better than the known.

“Nora Halpern has done an incredible job as curator of the collection, but (with museum plans under way) it’s an ideal time to bring in additional professional leadership,” he said. “I will spend the next six months getting a good grasp on things and studying how to intelligently make the foundation a part of the Los Angeles scene.”

The Beverly Hills City Council in early February approved a plan to lease the city-owned property (at $1 year for 55 years) to house Frederick R. Weisman’s multimillion-dollar collection of Abstract Expressionist, Pop and more recent artworks. In return, Weisman agreed to renovate the seriously deteriorating building at a cost of $6 million to $8 million.

Hopkins likens the planned museum--a 55-room estate in a prestigious residential community--to the Frick Collection in New York, the Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino and the J. Paul Getty in Malibu. “They are different from major museums because they allow people to look at art in a homelike setting. I would like to think that if I were from Iowa and interested in art, I could go to Greystone, see 20th-Century art and go away feeling better about the whole phenomenon,” he said.

The constantly growing collection includes more than 200 pieces of modern and contemporary painting and sculpture, but Hopkins expects to “prune and adjust” as well as enlarge the cache. “Fred has been collecting for years and he has always had a good eye, but he is ready to make some changes. I want the collection to be as close to perfect as possible,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins, who was graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1952, served as curator of exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 1960 to 1968 and directed the Forth Worth Museum for the next eight years. During his tenure in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art increased its collection by one-third.