Artists of Toledo

Open letter to the Toledo Museum of Art Trustees

Visitor at the Toledo Museum of Art examining a sculpture by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), Le Monument à Debussy, with Henri Matisse’s Fleurs ou Fleurs devant un portrait hanging in the background.

April 29, 2022

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.

Please do what the Baltimore Museum of Art Trustees did exactly 18 months ago, on October 28, 2020. Take these paintings off of the auction block.


Artists of Toledo

9 replies on “Open letter to the Toledo Museum of Art Trustees”

I am sure money can be raised some other way, rather than parting with these treasures that have made our museum so highly rated.

To put these masterpieces on the block in the name of diversity is ridiculous. You have to wonder whose pockets are being lined? Please reconsider and pull these masterpieces off the market.

If this is really going on, Mr. Levine needs to go! TMA is so unique and rich in tradition!
He’s selling it out to be politically correct! How mundane and obtuse.

Dear Mr. Levine,
Everyone from all walks of life can and does appreciate the current collection at TMA. If you believe there is a shortage in any particular area, then add to our already amazing holdings rather than make trade offs by putting these gems on the block. Build on the already solid foundation of TMA, without removing its soul. Re-engage Toledoans and our visitors.

When I received the email to TMA members regarding the sale of the paintings, I wrote Mr. Levine an email and I also posted my ire on Facebook. Below is my email and Adam Levine’s email back to me.

Carli Petrus, from Channel 13, was doing a story on the sale. After seeing my Facebook post she asked to interview me for the story. Here is the story which aired on 4/14/2022.

After I was interviewed I went to see the paintings for the last time only to find out they were removed from the gallery before members would have received the email regarding the sale.

Here is my letter to Mr. Levine and his response. As you will see at the bottom of the email is a request, which I realize is probably on all museum email, asking not to copy or disclose the email. While I take privacy matters very seriously and I mean no disrespect, I never agreed to confidentiality.

Dear Lori,

First, please call me Adam!

Thank you for your note. I want to emphasize that the Museum is in very strong shape and that the proceeds from this sale will support the acquisition of new art only. None of the monies earned will be used to support the Museum’s day-to-day operations.

I also want to encourage you to continue exclaiming the Museum’s Impressionist collection. Specifically, while we will not have The Bather on view at TMA any longer, we will have a more important and impressive late period work, Washerwoman (see here), as well masterpieces The Green Jardiniere (see here) and The Road at Wargemont (see here). I addition to these three works, we have three other works on paper, leaving us with six Renoirs to show off! As far as Matisse and Cezanne are concerned, we retain Matisse’s Apollo (see here) and Dancer Resting (see here) and Cezanne’s iconic Avenue at Chantilly (see here) as well as about 100 other works by both those artists on paper. As part of our process, we consulted with outside experts who reaffirmed that the works we are selling are indeed the lesser examples of our still considerable holdings.

I appreciate very much your passion for the Museum; know that it is shared by me and the staff, and we remain one of the great collections of late 19th/early 20th century European painting in this country. When you next visit, you’ll see our galleries still shine with iconic examples by Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse.


From: lori proctor
Sent: Saturday, April 9, 2022 10:31 PM
To: Adam Levine
Subject: the sale of the paintings

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Dear Mr. Levine,

Thank you for informing your members about the sale of the four fabulous paintings.

I am sure you must have very important reasons for selling such famous and beautiful paintings but I am just heartbroken that they are being sold.

The first place I go when I arrive at the museum is to see our incredible impressionist paintings. Other than my own home, that gallery is my favorite place in the city. Toledo has a bad reputation with people that don’t know much about our city. When I tell people from other cities and countries about the wonderful things Toledo has to offer, bragging about our world class museum is the first thing I speak of. And the first thing I tell them about the museum is about our impressionist collection. I love name dropping the artists in that collection. I love telling them about specific pieces of art and watching their faces awaken with surprise to find out we are blessed with such incredible works. After telling them of specific pieces, such as The Bather, I’ve had people that never wanted to step foot in Toledo drive for five hours just to see it!

It seems to me that the boards decision is tantamount to selling the goose that lays the golden egg. I have no idea how dire the situation could possibly be that would cause the board to sell such important art work but it must be horribly severe. You can’t possibly think the you are selling off “lesser works” to make the museum better, can you? If so, I am offended you think this is improving the museum.

Art touches people’s heart and soul. Thus, the city’s heart and soul have been harmed. Mr. and Mrs. Libbey must be rolling over in their graves.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and hearing my thoughts on the subject. I really am heartbroken you have done this.

Lori Proctor
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