Categories
Artists of Toledo

Looting and the Toledo Museum of Art

Toledo Museum’s new culture of belonging does not mean they can keep looted belongings of another culture.
Photo and description from the book published in 1900, Antique Works of Art from Benin Collected By Lieutenant- General Pitt Rivers, D.C.L., F.R.S., F.S.A. Inspector of Ancient Monuments in Great Britain, &c. page 34. “Figs. 100 and 101. – Bronze cast of human head. Marked negro features, rudely formed. Three tribal marks over each eye. Peculiar pointed reticulated head-dress of coral or agate. Curious lines of incised circles above and below the eyes. Coral choker, badge of rank. Bands of coral or agate hanging down on both sides and at the back. Ears badly formed. The projecting base ornamented with a guilloche pattern of two bands with pellets.” See, Yale Library webpage here..

For a museum that vies to be a forward-thinking museum desiring to set an example for all other museums to follow, why hasn’t the Toledo Museum of Art returned the stolen Benin Bronze to Nigeria yet? It was stolen in 1897, so they’ve had plenty of time! If they want to set the example then they’ve missed the boat, since Benin Bronzes are already being returned by U.S. museums, including the Smithsonian, The Met and Boston.

It was stolen by British colonial troops who invaded Benin City in 1897. It was then sold to General Pitt Rivers, a collector, who started a museum with his new collection of looted art.

For an overview on looted art, see Hyperallergic’s October 4, 2022 story, John Oliver Roasts Western Museums in Episode on Looted Art  regarding “subjects like hesitant repatriation, antiquities looting, and the shady acquisition practices of auction … citing grisly colonial histories and contemporary looting schemes.”   View the highly entertaining youtube link where you can watch the entire 30-minute episode here.

A page from the Toledo Museum of Art publication – African Tribal Art, 1973, which commemorated the museum’s recently opened gallery, the Art of Africa. While the museum had owned examples of African art for 15 years, it had only then, in 1973, acquired enough to form a gallery solely devoted to the art of the vast continent. The Benin Bronze was one of the first African objects it acquired, in 1958.
The African Image, Toledo Museum of Art’s 1959 show of African Art, put together from the collections of 37 museums and private collectors.

Toledo’s Benin Bronze came from the Pitt-Rivers Museum in 1958, right before the museum closed. This museum was General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-River’s personal museum at Farnham, Dorset, England bearing the same name as the museum started at Oxford University with his earlier bequeathed collection. 

Toledo’s Benin Bronze was featured in multiple African Art catalogs published by the Toledo museum in 1959, 1973 and 1998. But it’s not on display. Why not? Is it because it is so shameful to have this object, but Adam Levine can’t “pull the trigger” (as he so colorfully described his divestment of the museum’s three great French Impressionist paintings last spring for $54 million) to shoot this object back to Africa?

The Benin Bronze featured in the Toledo museum’s catalog, Facing Africa: The African Art Collection of the Toledo Museum of Art, published in 1998.

With Lenisa Kitchiner as the Toledo Museum of Art’s African art consulting curator, who also works full-time for the Smithsonian, an institution that is sending theirs back, it seems odd that Toledo’s Benin Bronze is in limbo — it’s not on display, but it’s not on a plane going back.

Toledo Museum of Art website catalog details, 2022. Not on display.
The museum says one thing but does another.

Just this summer, in the Blade’s 7-26-22 Toledo Museum of Art helps bring stolen antiquities back to owners, in regard to four objects looted from Italy in the museum’s collection, the museum told us that “the process of sending artwork to its home country and leaving the museum’s collection, or repatriation and deaccessioning, is integral to what the museum stands for.”

“The museum has a long history of helping in repatriation processes like these, including an Etruscan water jug caught up in an international trafficking scheme that was returned to Italian authorities in 2013 and a scientific instrument called an astrolabium, determined to have been stolen from Germany during World War II, that was returned to the German government in 2015.”

Toledo Museum of Art’s looted Italian kalpis, 1982 – 2013.
The 2013 repatriation of the Italian water jug

The Etruscan water jug, or kalpis, was sold to the museum for $90,000 in 1982 by Gianfranco and Rosie Becchina, who got it from the infamous Giacomo Medici. You can read about Becchina and Medici in the book, Chasing Aphrodite, an exposé of the antiquity looting at The Getty written by the journalists who had reported on it for the L.A. Times. In fact, this book describes the finding of Medici’s polaroids in 1995, one of which shows this very kalpis still covered in dirt from a recent illicit excavation. It wasn’t until 2012, the day that USA v. One Etruscan Black-Figured Kalpis, circa 510-500 BC, case No. 3:12-cv-1582 appeared online, that the Toledo Museum decided to do what they “stand for,” and send the looted antiquity back to Italy.*

Denying any other looted art in the museum besides the Nereid Sweetmeat Stand which was stolen from the Dresden museum during World War II, bought by the Toledo museum in 1956, and returned to Dresden in 2011, Director Brian Kennedy questioned, should there be an end-date to repatriations? It was his second, but he would oversee a lot more between 2015 and 2019. One was another 1982 acquisition of an Italian drinking vessel obtained from the same looters of this kalpis, Becchina and Medici.*

About the Subhash Kapoor-looted Asian antiquities
The Ganesh, Toledo Museum of Art 2006 – 2014.

The Ganesh was stolen from the Sivan Temple in Tamil Nadu India in late 2005 or early 2006. It was then sold to Toledo Museum in 2006, who returned it to India in 2014, two years after the Manhattan antiquities dealer, Subhash Kapoor, who sold it to them, was extradited to India to await trial for illegally taking antiquities out of the country. Kapoor had also given 48 free objects that the Toledo Museum listed in their 2007-2008 Annual Report as being recent additions to their collection. In this same publication, the museum thanked Kapoor on the donor page for his donation valued at more than $100,000.

Yellow highlights show the Subhash Kapoor gifts to the museum, which the museum added to their collection. The museum would claim later that it had never added most of these in its collection. See, here. Hmm. The blue brackets point out two of the purchases, including the pictured vessel which was also featured in the 2009 Toledo Museum Masterworks book.

This Subhash Kapoor episode is well-documented on the blog, Chasing Aphrodite, which is written by one of the authors of the book of the same name, mentioned above. Quote from the blog:

The Toledo Museum of Art told the New York Times that it had received a gift of 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The only object that appears in a search of the museum’s online collection is a terracotta vessel purchased in 2008. The museum published the object in 2009 in a book of the museum’s masterworks, but offers no ownership history other than saying it was created in Chandraketugarh, an archaeological site north-east of Kolkata. Where was it before Toledo? What are the ownership histories for the other 43 objects acquired from Kapoor?  –– Chasing Aphrodite

The museum replied to Chasing Aphrodite’s July 2013 inquiry with this:

“Our policy is to respond to requests about objects in the TMA collections made by official authorities such as museums, law enforcement agencies, foreign governments and those making legal claims to ownership,” spokeswoman Kelly Garrow** told me. “There have been no such inquiries to date in regard to the objects referred to in your email.” In other words, in Toledo’s view the public has no right to know the ownership history of objects in the museum’s collection, even when serious legal questions have been raised.

The museum came clean about their dealings with Kapoor in March 2014, attributing their decision to the information given to them by Chasing Aphrodite, even though the museum stonewalled their inquiries for two years and told them that they don’t have to answer to the public.

Subhash Kapoor gave a lot of free gifts to various museums, including The Met. The Met has several of these freebies listed as 20th Century. They are replicas – fakes. Kapoor would smuggle into the U.S. the real stuff packed in boxes of replicas, and the boxes would be marked, “replicas.” [see this Paul Barford blog link for that detail.] 


The true meaning of Belonging

And now we have a young new museum director with a major in anthropology, art history, and mathematics and social sciences, who did his graduate work at Oxford University – home of the Pitt Rivers Museum, albeit the first Pitt Rivers, which itself houses 327 Benin Bronzes according to Wikipedia. Our director, Adam Levine, seems to want to “contribute to the eradication of the illicit market for ancient artifacts.” He wants all museums in America to follow his good example. He’s leading a “Belonging” campaign where he endeavors to make the museum more welcoming by displaying a specially balanced world history in order that everyone will see themselves in the galleries. But this important Benin Bronze historical sculpture from Africa is not being shown in any gallery. Nor has it been returned to Nigeria. And not a peep about it.

The museum’s Belonging Plan states, “it is important to acknowledge the prior inhabitants of the land on which the Museum stands” and “The Toledo Museum of Art created a Land Acknowledgment both to honor the Indigenous peoples who resided on the land before the founding of the physical campus in the early 1900s and to demonstrate support for Indigenous communities of Ohio, celebrate their cultures, and recognize their forced removal from their lands in previous centuries.”

The hypocrites!

Since the sculpture was stolen by English colonialists in arguably the earliest episode of modern-day looting, in 1897, an ambush that captured an entire cultural heritage in artwork, shouldn’t the Toledo Museum of Art be returning this object as fast as they can – (they sure could sell three French Impressionist paintings at lightning speed) – considering the new branding and what the new 2022 Toledo Museum stands for, and to meet the museum’s goals for being totally authentic by 2026.

The Toledo Museum needs to do a survey of all of its works of art and research to find out if any had been purchased from looters or money launderers of stolen artwork, and they need to put online a database of the entire provenance of each work for the public to freely access. They need to do it with the same determination that they gave to the recent audit of their artworks, which showed that “the greatest imbalances exist across gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, nationality and geography, and material/medium.”

The museum should rethink that recent survey – what is the relevance of any of that, and specifically, of the nationality and geography of an object, when so much of that relies on an illicit market, when the museum should not be stealing from other cultures. The museum is, after all, into belonging, and Nigeria should own back their heritage that was stolen by the English colonialists, because it rightly belongs to them. 

And while they are at it, the Toledo Museum of Art should stop looting the local Toledo community of its cultural traditions. They should reinstate the museum’s long tradition of children’s Saturday art classes that had always been for ANY and ALL children in Toledo (2,500 children every week), instead of just a discriminatory few children (25 at the most?) at a specific grant-written outreach after-school childcare program at a library. Return to our Toledo community the century-old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, that the museum stole from us in 2014 under a cloud of corruption, and give us that Robert and Sue Savage Community Gallery for local artists promised to us in June 2021. The Toledo Museum of Art got Robert and Sue Savage to donate a lot of money to renovate a gallery space for one-person local artist shows 17 months ago, so where is it?


*Museum Ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art, Christos Tsirogiannis, artcrimeresearch.org  Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist who wrote about the kalpis and brought to light the looted Hephaistos drinking vessel in 2017, which the museum did not deal with until 2019.

**Regarding Kelly Garrow, the museum’s former Director of Communications who wrote the 2013 email to Chasing Aphrodite saying that they owed no answers to the public in regard to looted art in their collection, see this interesting 2014 message to this very artistsoftoledo.com blog (scroll down to the comments), where she was inspired to write 10 paragraphs about how the museum did not “fix” the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition of 2014 to add their own employees, and more.

Categories
Artists of Toledo

August open letter to the museum

A lot of brave Americans fought and died under the American flag…Toledo is Jeep country, after all. Have some respect.

Open Letter to the Board of Directors of The Toledo Museum of Art:

A burnt flag with a cartoon-like drawing of a black man pasted into it is a terrible insult to this country, to our community, and to me personally. But the Toledo Museum of Art has added such a work to their recent acquisitions. Interestingly, it was previously owned by the family of the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum. Adam Levine had to draw upon four endowment funds to pay for it, and three of the deceased benefactors whose art funds he drew upon served our country in World War II. In fact, almost everyone in our community has ancestors, family members, or else they themselves have fought under the American flag. Some people have just moved to our country, to our city, with a desire to live under the ideals of the American flag. For the museum to buy a burnt flag to hang on the museum’s wall, telling us they are collecting art that reflects our community, is disgusting.

There are many reasons why the Toledo Museum of Art should not have bought this “painting” besides the deeply hurt feelings of the community, including that it is stated in the U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, Respect for flag, (g): The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.” And here it is in the Ohio Revised Code Title 29 Section 292 2927.11 – Desecration (A): No person, without privilege to do so, shall purposely deface, damage, pollute, or otherwise physically mistreat any of the following: (1) The flag of the United States or of this state. Yet The Toledo Museum of Art celebrates, with their expensive purchase shaming deceased donors, the disrespect and desecration of the flag.

Here is my blog post about how deeply offensive this acquisition is, and about the deceased donors from whom the funds were pulled to purchase it, whose memory it deeply dishonors: Marvin and Lenore Kobacker, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barber, Mrs. George W. Stevens, and Florence Scott Libbey and her father, Maurice A. Scott — Why a burnt flag painting is wrong.

Here are other important issues I wish to address:

  1. What about the remote stewards (workers) of our museum? Since when are the people who run the Toledo museum too good to live here? Along with the spokesman about the sale of the French Impressionist paintings, John Stanley, a retired temporary consultant without an art degree who came from New York who I am pretty sure does not live in Toledo, I’m referring to the Communications Manager who lives in Lansing, the Brand Director who lives in Boulder, the consulting curator of African Art, Lanisa Kitchiner, who works full time for the Library of Congress in Washington DC (who doesn’t have an art history degree), and the consulting curator of Ancient Art, Carlos Picón, who is the director of the Colnaghi art gallery in New York and an ancient art dealer. I wrote a blog post about it, about our authentic story, and about the museum’s treatment of the local artist community. The Remote Control of Our Museum Culture.
  1. What about the $54 million from the Cézanne and Matisse deaccessions that had been purchased with the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment Fund? Shouldn’t that have gone back to the Edward Drummond Libbey fund to be used on new acquisitions? Where did that money go? Is it in a new endowment as stated by Adam Levine in his April 8 announcement of the deaccessioning of the three French Impressionist paintings? If so, what is the name of the fund? And if so, why is it not back in the Libbey fund, and what financial institution handles that fund?
  1. Will the museum and/or board members be making an investigation into the sale of the Cézanne and Matisse paintings that sold at auction collectively for $59 million to the SAME buyer, as reported in Barron’s Magazine (but not in The Blade for some reason)? What are the odds? Since this puts a cloud of corruption hanging over the museum in regard to the possibility that the sale was prearranged with the buyer, the museum and board should investigate and make public the buyer to clear the museum’s reputation, if that would be the case, since our museum should be beyond reproach. What valuable paintings will be the next to hit the auction block? These outrageous deaccessions of valuable historic paintings that were literally taken off the museum walls and sent to the auction house, an action rationalized by the museum director’s lies to the public, and the huge amount of money made by the sale – that for us not to know who bought the paintings, or whether or not the sale was prearranged, is unacceptable. Is our collection being used as a catalog for future collectors? It’s a good way to hide backroom deals. It’s a good way for our museum to be robbed of its great artworks.
  1. Why has the radius of the museum’s community outreach and interest shrunk to only 2 miles, when the area that the museum serves is vastly larger? In 2014, the museum claimed that their reach was a 150-mile radius, when they increased the area of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition to reach out to the major cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus. Before that, our community was defined by the 95-year old annual show as being 17 counties in Northwest Ohio and two counties in Southeast Michigan. The two-mile outreach defined now is not even 1/6th of the city of Toledo, not to mention the other many counties surrounding Toledo. Why isn’t the community equally represented on the Belonging Committee? In the museum’s latest manifesto about plans for community “belonging” there is nothing at all about the new local artists gallery that was heralded in The Blade in June 2021, for which Robert and Sue Savage donated $200,000 to renovate a gallery space that would have their name on it. A photo was taken with the mayor, director, and Robert and Sue Savage to memorialize the commitment.  The Robert and Sue Savage Gallery for Local Artists.  Are artists not a fundamental part of the art museum? Why aren’t local artists invited to “Belong?”   Museum Shows for Local Artists. 

In summary, there should be a special oversight looking over our museum right now. Our museum does not belong to outsiders, nor to just a fraction of the community, it belongs to ALL of us, the entire Toledo community. The people who run the museum ought to live here! That people who run the museum are “too good” to live here robs our city of culture, progress and money. Our museum is not a vehicle for outsiders to mold into something for their own personal benefits and gains. They are ripping us off! Conflicts of interest should be disclosed on every level, from the purchase to the sale of artworks, to the business relationships of the board members with the museum; from communications involving the museum and the press, to the curation of our community stories. There must be full disclosure for every move the museum makes. The people who run the museum have a fiduciary responsibility to our Toledo institution, and lying to the public is a breach of their fiduciary duty.

Thank you for your time. I hope you are having a good summer.

Sincerely,

Penny Gentieu

Categories
Artists of Toledo

Put the Rebel Flag in the Museum

Why a burnt American flag is all wrong for the Toledo Museum of Art

Beauty without bias?
Quality does not discriminate?

In what universe does a burnt American flag qualify as quality? How does it not discriminate? in whose eyes is it beautiful? Is it not biased against our country and most of the citizens?

My letter to the editor of The Blade

Re: Toledo Museum of Art announces 27 new acquisitions

Dear Editor,

Concerning your article about the museum’s new acquisitions – the museum recently sold our magnificent three French Impressionist paintings from our esteemed collection for 57 million dollars to buy new diverse art, and one of the first paintings that they bought is a portrait that has a burnt American flag as a background.

 There are a lot of people in the Toledo area who are patriotic and love our country, including many veterans who fought in wars defending our country, including the Civil War, who would not like to see a painting of a burnt American flag in our great Toledo Museum of Art. My great great grandfather was a French immigrant who joined the Union Army and fought and was wounded in the Civil War because he wanted to do his part to help free the slaves.

If the museum thinks that a burnt flag painting is going to enhance The Toledo Museum’s new “sense of belonging” and “tell the story of the Toledo community” and enhance our “sense of inclusion,” they have sadly only achieved offending most of the Toledo community. 

 If this new burnt flag painting is the TMA’s idea of telling the Toledo story, in their “new transformative Toledo Museum,” that supposedly strives to be a reflection of our community, they are wrong and can count me and a lot of Toledoans out.

Penny Gentieu

About my great great grandfather
who fought in the Civil War
and the meaning of the American flag

Toledo Museum of Art – how about a little gratitude for the 360,222+ including 36,000 black Union soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War to free the slaves? My great great grandfather’s life was forever after consumed by the horror of the Civil War that he fought in. It became a part of him. Hence, it is a genetic part of me. I can’t help but be offended by the image of a burnt American flag. It is the opposite of beautiful. I can’t accept that my Toledo Museum of Art is advocating the destruction of my country, which my immigrant ancestor came to with so much hope, fighting for this country while not even being a citizen, and starting the Gentieu family here.

Pierre Gentieu was interviewed about the Civil War at age 87 in 1929: 

In 1929, a reunion proposed for Union and Confederate soldiers was dismissed by the Grand Army of the Republic, because Union soldiers did not like it that the veteran Confederates still used their old flag in public ceremonies, whereas the Union veterans thought that the flag should be abolished.

“Put the the rebel flag in a museum,” said my great great grandfather Pierre Gentieu, the Commander of the Smyth Post No. 1, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Delaware.

Pierre said that all veterans, North and South, are brothers. “A good many are bitter against the reunion but I am not. We are all for the Union now – we are all brothers, and must consider our relationship in this light. It is of no use to fight now, and we must forget the bitterness of the past.”

“You must actually fight under a flag to learn to love it and respect it. You don’t know what it means to see it waving in the smoke of battle, representing the ideal for which you fight. Why, it is the soul of the regiment. I will never forget it.”

“I remember one particularly bitter battle to which we were advancing as reinforcements. We had been marching steady for a long time and were rather tired. And suddenly we came upon the scene. Not far away the battle was in full progress… people were killing each other mercilessly… and suddenly, through the thick smoke… just over the hill… we saw the flag! We knew that we were supposed to plunge right in and fight – with death, and yet, we forgot all about that and with a cry we were right in the midst of everything!”

“I don’t blame the Grays a bit for wanting to preserve their flags, and I believe in a reunion with them. But their flag should not be used in public. I’m absolutely opposed to that! The rebel flag should be preserved in a museum as a relic of the old days. That is the only place for it.”

My message to the new Curator of American Art at the Toledo Museum of Art

Dear Erin Corrales-Diaz,
A burnt American flag is not a good addition to the Toledo Museum of Art. How could you let that painting through? Didn’t you write your dissertation on the Civil War, and all wounded soldiers in it, and the art that came from that? Don’t you know that the subjects of your dissertation had blood pumping through them? They were fighting under that flag — the American flag. Unless your main focus was the injured soldiers of the Confederacy –– how can you be supportive and approve the acquisition of the painting of the smirking cartoon-like black portrait pasted on a burnt American flag?
We sell our Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir so that you, as the Curator of American Art, along with the other curators/art committee/director/board of directors, all so very collaboratively can have a field day collecting really offensive, junky art!
You don’t know our community. I can tell you that this painting does NOT reflect our community. Do you live in Toledo?

Museum diversity today

Toledoans are told that the museum wants to better reflect our community and they are buying art so that the community can see themselves on the walls.

Kerry James Marshall is a great artist who makes beautiful large paintings that would speak to our community, but this painting, unlike any other of his paintings, says the wrong thing. It’s totally off-brand.

Toledo is experiencing a record-breaking spike in gun murders and violence, and much of it is gang related. This painting exploits negative stereotypes of African Americans. The purchase of it for the walls of our great museum flames the fire of destruction, exploiting our community even further. The museum plans to use it for programming – the museum will run programs around it?

Our museum is known for having only the best examples of an artist’s work — we were told they sold our Cézanne, Renoir and Matisse because they had another painting of each artist that was voted by the board to be better. What a shame that our museum bought this painting to represent this artist instead of a painting that the artist intended to be on a museum wall – it’s not like the museum didn’t have the money – they cleared $57 million from the impressionist paintings to be spent on new art. – But they have yet to spend any of that money.

What did the museum pay?

The burnt flag painting was advertised on an Artsy catalog page for Lusenhop Fine Art at this year’s EXPO Chicago 2022, along with other works of Kerry James Marshall on the gallery’s EXPO Chicago 2022 page, and the highest price shown for any of them (except for two sold, which were not marked) is $55,000. According to the news story, the museum bought it from Phillip Gant, “a prominent Chicago-based collector.” He is the father of Kimberli Gant, the new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art . (The Brooklyn Museum does not have a Kerry James Marshall painting in their collection, and I can only assume that they passed on this one.)

The Toledo Museum of Art must have paid a fortune, because the museum drew from four art acquisition funds to purchase it:

Jamar Art Fund of Marvin and Lenore Kobacker  In 1970, Marvin and Lenore paid for a 17th-century furnished room from a French chateau, which was installed in the museum. The room was deinstalled around 2017. The money from the Kobacker art fund was then used for a Larry Poons painting, a glass and mixed media piece by Amber Cowan, and this burnt American flag. I’m not sure the Kobackers would like that. Before they were married, they both served their country under the American flag during World War II, which was a war that fought global superpowers on two fronts. We helped defeat the Nazis. Lenore Kobacker was in the WAVES and Marvin Kobacker was a lieutenant in the Navy. Lenore died in 1991 and Marvin died in 1993.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barber Art Fund  Mr. Barber served in the Amy Air Corps during World War II fighting against Nazi takeover. He was the president of the Perrysburg Township Republican Club in the 1960’s, and the Wood County Republican Party chairman. He spearheaded the reconstruction of Fort Meigs, a United States stronghold during the War of 1812. He was a great supporter of Delbert Latta, who was the representative for the 5th congressional district for 30 years, and the father of the current 5th congressional district representative. The Barbers endowed the Early American Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art. Mrs. Barber died in 1994 and Mr. Barber died in 1999.

Mrs. George W. Stevens Fund  Nina Spalding Stevens, along with her husband, George Stevens, ran the museum from 1902 until he died in 1926. She died in Paris in 1959.

Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott  Florence Libbey was one of the founding benefactors of the museum, and this endowment, second in size only to Edward Drummond Libbey’s endowment fund, pays for perhaps $400,000 worth of new art every year. in 1931 early in the Depression she put many Toledoans to work building the additional wings to the museum, including the Peristyle. Her father, Maurice Scott, once owned the land upon which the museum sits. Florence died in 1938, Edward died in 1925 and Maurice died in 1905.


A memorial service was held in the Peristyle for Mary Wolfe, a major donor to the Toledo Museum of Art, on November 30, 2014. The front several rows in the audience were filled with Toledo philanthropists. Mary Wolfe looked out at us from the screen.

I wonder how the dead donors would feel, and how their descendants feel, to see their philanthropy used to buy a burnt American flag for the Toledo Museum of Art. This painting is an extremely dishonorable way to remember them by.  Three of the donors served their country – our country, in World War II that defeated the Nazis. Can you imagine how the world would be today if we didn’t win? If burnt American flags were all the rage? If loving your country was declasse? The other two donors were founders of our great museum.

What happened to Toledoans running their own museum? Why are we letting outsiders take control and treat us like a political anthropology project?  Is it the beginning of the end for our great Toledo Museum of Art? Should we picket outside the museum to save the museum?

“The superpower that an art museum has is when something goes up on the wall, it’s considered good. We set the canon,” Levine said. “By displaying these artworks, we not only center them in the narrative of American art history and art history in general, but by acquiring them, we demonstrate that they are of superlative quality, on par with everything else in this museum. This is an opportunity for us to recognize the value of artists who haven’t been given the opportunity historically to be showcased at institutions like ours.”  – Adam Levine, ‘Beauty Without Bias’ At The Toledo Museum Of Art, Forbes, February 28, 2022

How much did our museum pay for this painting that they plan to build programs around?

What other anti-American, radical attention-getting antics will the Toledo Museum of Art pull at the expense of our community?

Who was the secret buyer of our Cézanne and Matisse? Was the sale pre-arranged? Why didn’t that money go back in the Libbey Endowment Fund or else why wasn’t it spent on new art? More questions…

Categories
Artists of Toledo

The remote control of our museum culture

Culture and Community by Government Remote Control

I am interested in The Toledo Museum of Art’s use of the 57 million dollar profit from the three recently deaccessioned French Impressionist/early modern paintings which they sold to raise money for the purchase of “diverse art.”

The Toledo Museum of Art recently hired a Consulting Curator, Lenisa Kitchiner, for the museum’s African collection. Although the museum doesn’t mention it in their news release, she is the Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with an educational background in literature, African studies and politics, not art history.

She will “steward a growing collection of African art at an innovative institution in the heart of the Midwest,” while “creating a collecting strategy that represents the entire community,” and “sharing untold stories and fostering widespread community belonging.” From the June 28, 2022 Toledo Museum of Art press release:

Kitchiner eagerly anticipates joining TMA at such a pivotal time as the Museum endeavors to advance a collecting strategy that represents the entire community. “The opportunity to steward a growing collection of African art at an innovative institution in the heart of the Midwest is extraordinary,” Kitchiner stated. “The Toledo Museum of Art’s commitment to sharing untold stories and fostering widespread community belonging—coupled with its impressive curatorial staff and its unmistakable impact—make it the right place through which to share my passion for the visual arts of Africa.”

I googled Lenisa Kitchiner, the new steward of African art for The Toledo Museum of Art, and discovered that she is the Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (It’s a mystery as to why the museum’s press release did not mention that.) Will she be working remotely?

I was struck by her description of her favorite children’s book, which inadvertently connected me to a heretofore untold story that has deep roots in Toledo culture. I share in the spirit of contributing to an ambitious museum’s endearing transition to endeavoring the enduring, relentless sea change of advancing engagement and authentic widespread community belonging, in order to foster pivotal, vibrant, Midwest, ready-to-be-told, it’s-about-time, yes-we-did, storytelling.

The untold Midwest story of Jan Wahl and Maurice Sendak

In the September/October 2021 Library of Congress Magazine article, Lenisa Kitchiner was interviewed for being the new Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. She describes her favorite book as a child, Where the Wild Things Are:

I am a lifelong learner, a lover of literature and a consummate traveler. I like to blame it on Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” which indelibly influenced my imagination when I first read it at age 5. The book tells the remarkable story of a little boy who dreams of traveling to a faraway place, encountering monstrous creatures and winning their favor by performing a special magic trick that forces the creatures to suspend fear of the unknown long enough to see the boy as friend instead of foe. I did not have the words to articulate it as a child, but it was that sense of creating new connections, of overcoming fear, of embracing the unknown and of having meaningful impact that I fell in love with when I first read the book. These aspirations continue to influence my engagement in the field.

I was immediately reminded of my old friend Jan Wahl and Artist of Toledo who died in 2019 at the age of 87. A flood of new understanding of Jan Wahl’s life came over me! Looking back at his life, I can now see that, in a nutshell, Jan Wahl was that boy in the book! He traveled to far-away places, he encountered monsters, and he won them over with his creativity. I never really thought of him before as the little boy in Where the Wild Things Are.

As a child living in the Westmoreland neighborhood of Central Toledo, Jan would write to famous people and collect silent films and art prints. In college, his teacher was Vladimir Nabokov. On a Fulbright Scholarship in Denmark, he worked with the Danish director, Carl Dreyer on the making of Ordet (The Word). He then worked for the writer of African tales, Isak Dinesen, whom he didn’t like at all. “She fired me over two misspelled words, after four months of work!”

Jan Wahl was a renowned children’s book author, having published about 130 books. He wrote from the perspective of “a child trying to grasp the unfathomable adult world.” He also wrote memoirs of his silent film experience, including Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise BrooksThrough a Lens Darkly, and Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker. He collected fantastic early 16mm art films.

Jan Wahl had some wild stories – such as one about Maurice Sendak taking his idea for a book and making it into Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak was a mentor and collaborator when Jan Wahl started out. Jan had similar stories involving puppet makers, film directors, gallery owners, etc.  Jan Wahl was not confrontational; he would simply write another book, 130 in total.

Making self-deprecating jokes about these experiences was how Jan Wahl would vent. It had to have hurt, for his friend and mentor to take his story and make it his own, while leading him on, eventually throwing him a bone. I wonder if Jan had a sense that the story prophesied his life. Ironically the book became Maurice Sendak’s main legacy.

When Maurice Sendak died in 2012, Jan auctioned off his letters from 1962-1964. Maurice Sendak illustrated Jan Wahl’s first book, Pleasant Field Mouse, published in 1964, after Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963. A mouse and a monster-tamer, at least young Jan Wahl ended up with a book. Thus, he began his life as a children’s book author, successful although not rich, considering his prolific output. “I began at the top. It didn’t stay that way. But I did have a lovely, lovely beginning with a very fine artist,” was his quote in his Blade obit, taken from a 2006 Blade interview.

Jan Wahl and the Toledo Museum of Art

During the summer of 2013, not long after Jan Wahl’s special book came out, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker, The Toledo Museum of Art put on a Dreyer film series. The first one was The Passion of Joan of Arc, and my husband and I went to it. We were surprised that Jan was not a part of it. So I wrote to the museum’s Public and Glass Programs Coordinator to tell her about Jan Wahl and his book, what a great film historian he was, and how he puts on film programs, and I gave her his phone number. She replied that she knew all about Jan Wahl, he did programs with the museum in the past, and that “he was actually part of the inspiration for the series. Unfortunately special guests are not always free of charge.”

It was hard to believe that the museum couldn’t scrape together a modest honorarium for Jan Wahl, a great local author and film historian, one who actually worked with Carl Dreyer on Ordet, in order to bring him into the event that his own newly-published book had inspired. Jan Wahl would have been happy to do it for merely a ride to the museum. How bad it was for them to take his work as the inspiration for the Dreyer film series, but not include him in the program. It was nice to see that the Dreyer films in the series thereafter, including the next film shown, Ordet, were introduced by Jan Wahl.

Wahl + Museum in 2019

Thereafter, the museum did more things with Jan. The final collaboration was for the launch of his new children’s book, Hedy and Her Amazing Invention, scheduled for March 2, 2019. Unfortunately, Jan Wahl died on January 29, five weeks before the event. In his obituary on February 1, the Blade quoted the museum manager of Programs and Audience Engagement saying that the program would continue, but would become a celebration of his writing, and especially his new book. “We want to celebrate what he has given to the world.”

Two weeks later, the museum had not changed their website to pay respect to the author of the book who was the principal element of the upcoming book-signing and book-reading event, who was unfortunately dead! I felt compelled to write another letter, this time to the director, Dr. Brian Kennedy in an email which I cc’d to the CEO of the Museum Board and the Director of Education and Engagement. I received an immediate reply, not from any of them, but from the Director of Communications, thanking me for bringing it to her attention that the information was out of date. The website was promptly updated to add a mention that the event would celebrate the author’s life and his new book, along with an art demonstration, and a parade.

No doubt this last episode with the museum gave Jan Wahl great material for a new story to tell up in heaven.

Treatment of local artists
and the shift to the culture of un-belonging
Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, the 96-year old tradition

We are the hometown artists, and we’d like some respect. The museum’s new manager of communications touts the line: “We want the community to see themselves on the walls of the museum.” Artists of Toledo would like to see ourselves on the walls of the museum, too. We’d like to feel that sense of belonging again, that was taken away from us eight years ago under a cloud of corruption.

In 2014, it meant nothing to the Toledo Museum of Art to kill the 96-year old tradition of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition by use of “curating” it themselves instead of impartial judging of the entries. They stuffed the show with insiders such as museum workers, Federation presidents and past presidents, and friends, with only two women from Toledo, while excluding people of color.

I curated a show in protest with like-minded local artists called Artists of Toledo at the Paula Brown Gallery.

The Toledo Area Artists Exhibition had been jointly presented by the Federation of Toledo Art Societies and the Toledo Museum of Art until 2011, when the museum told the Federation that they would take it over so they could do even more for Toledo artists. But in 2014, they took Toledo artists out of the show and put in their own employees, friends and previous Federation presidents, with only two local women artists, in a show of 27 artists (which had usually been 80 or more local artists, usually over half being women.) Even though local artists entered the competition as they had for 96 years, this show did not have impartial judges, as had all the shows after 1921 (when the museum caused an uproar by jurying it themselves and giving the prize to a 14-year old), instead it was “curated” by the museum’s own staff. The museum quietly stopped the Toledo Area Artists annual show, and it was okay with the Federation of Toledo Art Societies since they got a big payoff. But they should have fixed it. See, my blog post, Toledo Museum of Art: Repair the Damage.

Screen-Shot-2014-10-20-at-11.01.26-AM
In 2014 they increased the show’s area of eligibility to cover a 150 mile radius that included Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland and Ann Arbor.

So it’s weird that today they are using “community belonging” after  kicking out the local artists eight years ago. When they so want to tell our untold stories of the community, but isn’t the art that comes from the community the most authentic community story for an art museum to tell? The museum turned its back on local artists – where is the promised local art gallery for local artist shows? Promised 15 months ago! So much indecision and procrastination – they don’t know what to do, because they don’t really want to do it — they don’t like their local artists.

Narrowing the transmission

This year, the museum endeavors to engage the community by reducing the area it serves to a 2-mile radius. When they say community, they do not mean the entire Toledo area, and they certainly don’t mean the artists. They are reaching out to nearby neighborhoods who have not utilized the museum in the past. Must be the winning grant theme of the era. They are setting up “art-making stations” in federally-funded low-income housing, and they will feature these new local artists that they inspire and create, in a community gallery that they promised 15 months ago to Toledo’s local artists. They are emphasizing belonging (a membership drive, that is) by raising the parking fee to discourage visits to the museum by anyone who is not a member. Transportation for low-income housing within the 2-mile radius is provided by the museum for free.

Enlarge

greater-Toledo-map-2-mile-radius
Map of the Toledo area that the Toledo Museum of Art once served, with the new two-mile radius marked, delineating their community outreach.

Enlarge

TMA-2-mile-radius
This two-mile radius that the museum has been delineated as the area of concentration to foster their sense of community belonging is 1/6 of the City of Toledo’s total area, and about 1/50 of the Toledo area that it serves. The museum feels bad because the majestic Toledo Museum of Art building was not destroyed when the state put in the I-75 interstate highway 60 years ago.  The area outside this two mile radius, which most of Toledo, will not be included in the museum’s concentration to foster our sense of community belonging. We are considered outsiders and will be ignored. 

The relentless focus

IMG_4444-highlght
Excerpt from The Toledo Museum of Art press release, July 2022

the world we live in? 

In 2014, Erin the President of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies accepted the corruption of the rigged Toledo Area Artists Exhibition by saying, “I tell my students, it’s the world we live in.”

In 2022, John Stanley told the Blade in regard to the deaccessioning of the three French Impressionist paintings, “It’s the world we live in.”

Diversity – the perfect cover for selling off the good art… nobody gets to know who it is sold to! And what will be next?

Connecting with the government for political power and personal upward mobility?

Is this what it has come to?

Outsiders are telling our story, remotely, when they don’t know us.

The museum only does what looks good on the current grant application.

A museum run by remote control is bad for Toledo.

Jan Wahl’s great children’s story was appropriated, and he never forgot it. The current stewards of the great Toledo Museum of Art are deliberately erasing the real story of this community as they sell off our great art! Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir, and what is next? Rembrandt? We should not accept what is happening to the museum as if we can’t do anything about it, because we can!

Artists of Toledo

What a bunch of B.S. – telling our story! We want our museum back!

To tell the authentic story, see how the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition did it for 96 years. What’s more authentic to the community, than art that is made by community artists? There is no better way to help local artists, thus helping the community, than to bring back the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Verified by MonsterInsights