Dear Honorable Trustees of the Toledo Museum of Art:
What are you doing to our museum? As members and visitors, you now racially profile us by zip code and categorize us by age. Our art is profiled through subjective categorization with your study determining that “a collections audit indicated the greatest imbalances exist across gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, nationality and geography, and material/medium.”
Please explain how you determine the sexual orientation of a painting? If you did another audit to look into the sexual preferences of the artists that are already in the museum, I’m sure you would find a lot of diversity.
A few decades ago, the museum stopped doing their great Saturday classes for about 2,500 Toledo public school children, a very diverse group by the way, and then wondered why young people were not coming to the museum. And so they started a 24-47 membership category. Short lived because the members got older. So they switched their focus from age to race.
So many categories, and statistics show an imbalance, so you deaccession our best paintings and use them as currency. Fast and easy money when you sell the famous ones. Why don’t you do a fundraiser instead? Or are you just trying to make a point at the expense of our valuable French Impressionist paintings?
Perhaps you don’t appreciate the gifts the museum has been given because you didn’t have to pay for them. And after a great donor and supporter of black, white, and even female local artists, such as Mrs. C. Lockhart McKelvy is dead, say 50 years or so, you don’t need to remember her, either. In fact, why bother remembering the 110th anniversary of the opening of the new building, because it fell on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, a day which you opened the museum on a Monday, for maybe the first time ever. The museum’s anniversary was not in the program; it was not to be remembered or embraced, it could not be part of the communal memory. It somehow was a conflict of interest, you couldn’t figure out how to honor the museum on Martin Luther King Day, as if they can’t go together. So fervent you are to push away your history, because it’s just too white, like the building that you apologize for being so off-putting.
Somehow, a press release was leaked to a TV station, who did announce the museum’s anniversary that day. But it seems you made sure that no one who worked at the museum that day knew, or let on that they knew, that little fact, in the museum’s effort to promote “diversity.” (I was there that day, and I asked about their anniversary, and nobody knew.) So our history gets pushed down the memory hole. We are told that we need a realignment. We need “unconscious bias training” and experts are brought in. We need to sell our masterpieces because, face it, they are just too white. Too French!
But isn’t all of this just overcompensation for Director Adam Levine’s infamous George Floyd memo mistake? Could it be that Levine is running amok and that we are just too nice to say, hey, stop it! I think it’s obvious to many that this wild publicity stunt that draws world attention to Adam Levine is a stepping stone for his next position, and that we will be left with a museum collection that doesn’t actually speak to our community or reflect the museum’s own rich history.
We just had a director whose program was visual literacy — how to look at art. And now we have a director who tells us what art we should be relating to, according to our genetics and personal heritage. Wow! He’s telling us that if you are black, you shouldn’t relate to our French Impressionist paintings, since they were done by white European men. Even though the Impressionist movement was such a historical artistic break-through, and has led to other important movements, and that these paintings are so accessible and have influenced all kinds of artists regardless of the color of their skin.
Unfortunately for Levine’s attempt to imply that somehow the museum is not inclusive and diverse is the overwhelming proof of the museum’s longstanding history of inclusion and diversity.
Adam Levine is using us like an anthropology project, and he’s applying some heady mathematics. Not to mention psychology, writing this to us in his April 8 announcement of the deaccessioning: “As Edward Drummond Libbey put it in 1912: ‘Let the multitudinous array of the mediocre be relegated to the past and in its place be found the highest quality, the best examples and the recognition of only those thoughts which will stand for all time.’”
As if our three beloved, popular, and very valuable, paintings, that until very recently hung on the walls, paintings that people came to see, are being deaccessioned because they are mediocre. Yet they will bring $62 million. And Toledoans are so nice, letting Adam Levine remake the museum because of ethnic and sexual orientation results from an audit (to draw attention away from his memo mistake). He conveniently erases our progressive and inclusive history, projecting a sense of shame on us for having our magnificent French Impressionist collection, which he projects on the museum itself. As if the museum cannot buy art fast enough to make up for the so-called diversity inequities. But actually that has been what the museum has been doing for the past many years, if you look at the new art and the shows. There have been ethnically diverse shows covering the world since the beginnings of the museum.
We were always taught to only buy art that we love. It takes courage, as Otto Wittmann said of Mrs. McKelvy’s collection. But today, the museum seems to have forgotten that principle. Instead, they do audits and make graphs; they profile and compartmentalize. They tell us what to like on the basis of our background or age or sexual orientation, that certain art should speak to us when other art should not. Instead of bringing us together, they pull us apart, and needless to say, love of art doesn’t have anything to do with it.
Adam Levine should not be selling off our three French Impressionist masterpieces by MATISSE, RENOIR, AND CÉZANNE to raise even more money in the name of diversity when we just had a major fundraiser in 2017 that brought in $43 million, not to mention the numerous endowments the museum already has for buying art, and the Art Ambassadors, the Georgia Welles Apollo Society, and the Libbey Circle who also buy new art.
Let’s save these three great French Impressionist paintings. Let’s not allow our great collections to be used by the director to get attention in the art world, to make his statement – all in the name of damage control. Our museum is already inclusive and diverse and it does not need to be rebranded.