Categories
Artists of Toledo

Before they sold off masterpieces prominently on display

Our museum should not be a catalog for billionaires to add to their art collection at our expense.

The day I shot these photos, on October 13, 1979, I was teaching a children’s Saturday photo class. It took place under the stage of the Peristyle. We went up to the galleries, as Saturday classes often would.

This photo is of the center entrance of the museum. The first gallery a visitor would come to was that gallery in the upper left, and on view here, in the distance, is the famed Cezanne, The Glade, that Adam Levine sold at auction on May 17, 2022, touting it was necessary in order for diversity.

This is a student in my class. She’s taking her first photo — in it appears The Glade by Cezanne, which is right next to Renoir’s Bather, which was also sold off by Adam Levine.

This photo shows a diverse group of people in that very gallery — so why did Adam Levine think that the museum did not attract diversity? Is it because he was using diversity as a smokescreen for his outrageous sale of three French Impressionist paintings, two of which were bought with funds from the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment and were Libbey’s gift to to the people of Toledo, but Adam Levine took those proceeds and funded a separate private fund devoid of public scrutiny and against the wishes of the Libbeys — in the amount equal to that of the Libbey Fund?

Right next to the Cezanne and the Renoir paintings that Adam Levine sold is Renoir’s sculpture of a bather, shown here on the left. Adam Levine considered the painting of the bather by Renoir redundant and not necessary for the museum to keep, since they had the sculpture of the bather by Renoir. He said that the museum never intended to have more than one example of any one artist so therefore they sold the Renoir painting of the bather. Note the diverse group of children drawing on the floor in this room.

After leaving the first gallery, where the Cezanne and Renoir paintings were shown prominently, a visitor would enter the next gallery, where one of the first paintings in the gallery hanging on the right would be Henri Matisse’s Fleurs ou Fleurs devant un portrait that Adam Levine also sold. Here, a visitor examines a sculpture by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), Le Monument à Debussy, (in conversation with the Renoir sculpture in the first gallery) with the Matisse painting hanging in the background.

Important to the museum’s collection.

So that’s three very famous, highly valuable paintings that were prominently on display at the Toledo Museum of Art, showing that these were the first paintings out of hundred of works of art that a museum visitor would encounter. But in 2022, these highly valuable paintings were called redundant and mediocre by Adam Levine, and sold for “diversity,” supposedly.

Here are two young black men enjoying the museum. This was in 1979. The museum has always had a diverse audience. But now Director Adam Levine keeps careful head count, mapping and going out of his way to exploit diversity or is that just a cover for the unconscionable sales he made of the museum’s great artwork?

Here’s a shot of the photography classroom under the stage of the Peristyle. In the background, a student is drying his print on the ferrotyping drum.

Incidentally, the children’s Saturday photography classes have also disappeared.

Photography is such an interesting medium. How could I have known then, when I was taking these photographs, that they would have such meaning today?

43 years later, three important and significant paintings that were hanging in the museum’s main galleries would be shipped to Sotheby’s where the Cezanne and the Matisse would be sold to the same buyer, for $57 million, and all three, grossing $61 million, would duplicate the value of the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment Fund, putting the money into a private fund, not subject to public scrutiny, and skirting past Libbey’s rules and wishes for the museum that the Libbeys began. Reducing the art collection and taking away Libbey’s legacy. Shame on Adam Levine and shame on each one of the museum board members and Libbey Endowment trustees for their total breach of fiduciary duty and loyalty to the Libbey Trust and to the Toledo Museum of Art.

We will never see the paintings on the museum walls again. But I have photos. And this story to tell.

(If you zoom in on the flash, you will see me there.)


I am hoping that the findings of the Charitable Law Section of the Ohio Attorney General, which has been investigating the museum and the Libbey Trust for about five months now, will be bringing justice to Libbey’s trust, to our museum, and to the people of Toledo. The Ohio Attorney General’s office has the power to find out who bought the paintings and under what circumstances. They can investigate all the inner workings of the board of directors and the trustees of the trust that let this happen. They can do a complete audit. Can Adam Levine and the trustees of the museum and the Libbey trust actually be allowed to transform Libbey’s endowment into private funds devoid of the restrictions of the Libbey Endowment?

Categories
Artists of Toledo

Adam Levine’s Toledo Museum of Art

An assessment of the offerings at
Adam Levine’s Toledo Museum of Art
two years into the five-year plan

In 2021, Adam Levine, the new director of the Toledo Museum of Art, announced that he was increasing the museum’s annual budget by $2 million while reducing the draw from the Libbey Endowment. The rules of the Libbey Endowment are such that the money must be used in whole or in part for the exhibition of art, with at least 50% of every dollar spent on the purchase of works of art for the purpose of public exhibition. To draw less from the Libbey Endowment means they are free to do what ever they want. They don’t need to buy art or have great shows anymore.

Just as we had been warned, the shows since then have been sparse and less spectacular. We’ve had Matt Wedel, regional mid-career ceramicist, and his “Phenomenal Debris” filling up the Levis Gallery Nov. 5, 2022 — Apr. 2, 2023, which, as the name suggests, was a real departure for the Toledo Museum of Art, and not in a good way. Meanwhile in the Canaday Gallery, in a redo of a show from two years ago, they decked out the Canaday with artwork in need of repair and solicited donations for the restorations, for the privilege of the donor’s name being briefly associated with the “adopted artwork.” The piece used in the promotion was a 1925 glass dress, representing Libbey himself, ironically, to raise money for restoration instead of using the museum and Libbey’s money to restore the dress. So tacky of them. The show was up an extra-long time, from Sept 24, 2022 to Feb. 5, 2023.  Now they give us a show about astrology and fortune-telling curated by the two new Brian P. Kennedy Leadership Fellows (formerly known as Mellon Fellows) who drew from the museum’s own collection. Feb. 3, 2023 — Jun. 18, 2023, because that is just what they think we like, after we endured the Supernatural traveling show in 2021.

Meanwhile, as evidenced by features in the sporadically published Art Matters Magazine and nearly every press release Levine manages to put out, they go on and on about their curatorial work writing wall text and rearranging galleries, as if they are preparing us for a terrible fright. Lately, they have been moving art around in the American galleries so that the artworks will talk to each other and tell us the TRUE meaning of being an American. Because, as they tell us, being an American changes all the time, and you need to listen to the paintings, look closely and see how they interact. Do they like each other? Can they get along? If you still don’t get it, read the wall text.

But coming to Toledo this summer just in time for Juneteenth is the enthusiastically inspired traveling show called Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, June 3 – Sept. 3. It is co-curated by Brooklyn Museum’s young up-and-comer Kimberli Gant, who wrote an accompanying book about the Black American artist (1917–2000) and the 1960’s Nigerian art scene. Read about Jacob Lawerence here on this unrelated time-capsule of a website from the Whitney Museum in 2002, too good not to share.

It is interesting that it is Kimberli Gant’s family who originally owned the burnt miniature American flag piece that the museum acquired last year, purchased with funds from the bequests “by exchange” of dead patrons who happened to have been veterans who fought under the American flag in World War II. Would these Toledo veterans have approved of their money being used to buy a burnt flag? I bet it would break their hearts. The burnt American flag to-date has not been displayed to the public. But the wall text has been written – with great enthusiasm.

Will the museum be showing the burnt American flag piece? Or is it reserved for their “programs,” as the museum’s curator of contemporary art mentioned on Instagram? It must be exciting for the underpaid “contracted” museum teachers (mostly women who are not given health insurance) to pull out this 8×10 burnt American flag painting mounted on a 4-ply museum board and use it to inspire both young and old people at the “outside the museum walls” art-making spaces in federally funded low-income housing projects.

The art-making spaces are funded by a local manufacturer of fiberglas insulation and roofing materials, Owens Corning, and the program is run by the Toledo Museum of Art. Since the museum no longer has their long-time Children’s Saturday classes that took place in the basement of the museum, in a school aptly named The Toledo Museum of Art School of Design, bringing together 2,500 children from all over the city of Toledo every Saturday during the school year, not to mention the many hundreds of adults it served during the week, and now the halls are empty, Adam Levine likes to boast that they have burst “outside their walls” with this new program that serves 18,000 people in housing developments within a 2-mile radius of the museum. Whether the residents want it or need it or like it or not. Everyone else in the city is out of luck because most of their efforts are funneled into the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, the President and CEO of which, Joaquin Cintron Vega, happens to be a new museum board member, along with Brian Chambers, the CEO of Owens Corning who is also on the board, sitting pretty.

And speaking of Nigerian art, I wonder if the Toledo Museum of Art will be returning their looted Benin Bronze, or are they waiting out the storm, keeping it hidden while conscientious museums across the country are returning their looted art to Africa? Adam Levine must have figured that sooner or later the reports of returned looted art will be old news and used to wrap fish.

If we can only be patient, coming next year will be a show curated by the recently retired Toledo Museum Curator of European Art, Larry Nichols.

It was good timing that Larry Nichols retired right before the $59.7 million sale of the three French Impressionist paintings, two of which were sold to one buyer under suspicious circumstances. And now he’s back on a freelance basis, with a real show to help out the museum since they have not been able to come up with a good one on their own after hiring countless curators. (It’s not that they can’t, they just haven’t wanted to.) There will be a show with not just one, or two, or three, but four Caravaggios, and they will be conversing with the wanna-be Caravaggios in the museum’s collection. How exciting! Put it on your calendar — Jan. 20 – April 14, 2024. I can’t wait!

I’m glad the museum could give our venerable old art curator an outlet during his retirement. Somehow Larry Nichols managed to persuade four museums to trust the Toledo Museum of Art, to get the museums to loan to Toledo their valuable painting. What a lucky break after the Toledo Museum of Art reneged on their promise to loan our Cezanne Avenue at Chantilly to the Art Institute of Chicago for their major Cezanne exhibition, which opened two days before our museum sold at Sotheby’s our valuable Cezanne painting, The Glade to a secret buyer for $41.7 million, the same mysterious person also buying Henri Matisse’s Fleurs ou Fleurs devant un portrait for $15.3 million. (See page in the show’s catalog, Cezanne, that was printed right before the show.)

What was the hurry to sell our paintings? Was our collection used as a catalog by a collector who made an offer that had a time limit that made Adam Levine betray his commitment to the Art Institute of Chicago? How could Adam Levine have sold our Cezanne right out from under these circumstances and break a promise to an esteemed museum? It hurt the exhibition, it hurt the public, it hurt the historic record, it hurt our institution – it hurt everyone. It is his fiduciary duty to be a good steward and to honor the reputation and legacy of the museum.

The money from the sale of the French Impressionist paintings, the Cezanne and Matisse that came from the Libbey Endowment and the Renoir that came from Mrs. McKelvy’s French Impressionist collection, should have been spent immediately on art, or else it should have gone back in the respective endowments. But instead they started an entirely new financial instrument with the proceeds of the art, making a lot of money for the bankers.

I wonder what the $2 million per year increase in the museum’s annual budget is going toward? They hired two people to be in charge of “People” and “Belonging” (a Chief People Officer and the other is the Director of Belonging.) The shows, as noted above, have been bare minimal offerings. They’ve reduced their public education to a skeletal existence. They closed the museum on Tuesday as well as Monday (except for MLK Day, a new tradition), so it is now only open five days a week. They raised their parking fee by 45%, right after they sold the museum’s three famous French Impressionist paintings. There are huge gaps in acquisition numbers for the art acquired in 2022, keeping the public from finding out what they are buying. This, after they made such a big deal about what they were going to buy. As it is a public institution formed to exhibit art to the public – the public has a right to know.

Why did the museum hire a curator of ancient art, Carlos Picon, the director of the Colnaghi art gallery in New York, who is an ancient art dealer? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Do the objects being bought now really speak to the museum’s so-called mission of collecting art that looks like us and are they filling in cultural gaps and expanding the narrative of art history? Or is it the same old fluffy stuff?

Adam Levine said in his 2022 Forbes interview for a feature story on beauty without bias, “The superpower that an art museum has is when something goes up on the wall, it’s considered good. We set the cannon.” They’ve got the power, and they can do whatever they want with it.

In June 2021, the museum announced that a new gallery was being renovated that would be exclusively for solo shows of local artists. Then there was dead silence about it. It never materialized. After a year and no gallery, the donor himself, Bob Savage, told me that it was delayed because the museum couldn’t decide what to do. That’s how much they regard the local artist community, as if we do not “belong” or fit into their community/people/belonging plan. Then last week, on February 23, very quietly, the Ninth Congressional District Invitational Art Competition high school art show opened the new gallery. No announcement of the gallery or the event was made to the public or to the artists of Toledo, but Congressman Marcy Kaptur was at the event thanking the donors, Sue and Bob Savage.

I remember writing to the museum board two years ago when their five-year plan was published in The Blade (see the first Blade article on this post). I wrote in response to the renewed community focus, and could they please bring back our 100-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition? The response was favorable and and Randy Oostra, the CEO arranged for me to have a meeting with Adam Levine, which took place two months later. That day, ready to give my spiel, Adam Levine surprised me with news that he said I would be the first outside of the museum to know – that they were renovating a gallery specifically for solo shows for local artists. One month later The Blade featured a news story (see above) a with a photo of Adam Levine, the donors that will pay for the renovation, and the mayor of Toledo. Then not a word was ever spoken or written about it, not on their website nor in social media, nor in their members magazine, then one mention, occurring in The Blade one year later in regard to the art making spaces in the federal housing projects, that those new art-makers may have a show at the museum gallery. Finally, nearly two years later, the gallery that was promised to professional local artists opened with a show for high school students. I feel sorry for those young artists because when they grow up, they will get no support from the museum, unless they live in the projects.

When the museum talks about community, local artists are not included. The art museum makes their own artists now.

We must trust them and believe they have our best interests at heart, Leslie Adams assured us in 2014. The former president of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies got a one-person show from the museum in 2013 as the first, and as it turned out, the only, biennial solo show prize winner ever. Other TFAS former presidents and museum insiders were also rewarded when the museum corruptly abruptly canceled our prestigious Toledo Area Artists Exhibition that we had had for nearly 100 years.

It is a tragedy for the community that the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition was ended. For nearly a century, it helped countless artists achieve their goals, including three generations of my family. Check out the significance of the show by looking at the bios, clippings and obituaries of the many historic Artists of Toledo on this website. The shows played a prominent role in the careers of nearly every successful artist in Toledo. The demise of this annual show hurts our very DNA.

Brian P. Kennedy, director from 2011 to 2019, is oddly honored. The Mellon Fellow title has been renamed to “Brian P. Kennedy Leadership Fellow.” It’s too bad that one of the first two Mellon Fellows hired by Kennedy (Halona Norton-Westbrook) was involved in the corruption of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition in 2014. It gave the Mellon Fellowship a bad name. But with the new name, what kind of role model for leadership is Brian Kennedy after he resigned from the Toledo museum just 18 months before the end of his 10-year contract to go to the Peabody Essex Museum, then he quit that museum after only 17 months? Of his leaving the PEM, Kennedy said:

After thirty years in museum leadership on three continents, this current unprecedented period of racial, social, economic and political turmoil has given cause for serious thinking and new perspectives on the profound changes that are happening in our world and I have decided to pursue a new challenge.

Which is extremely weird.

His departure caused a great deal of damage to the Toledo Museum of Art in 2019, because the museum was not prepared with an heir apparent. It led to the unfortunate situation we are in today. The board members ended up hiring the museum’s other Mellon Fellow hired by Kennedy – Adam Levine – who had left Toledo, but then came back for this. But after just a couple of years and this track record, what is going on?

The museum has traded connoisseurship for money and politics. Art can be political, but a public art museum cannot be, because that would be divisive and polarizing. The Toledo Museum of Art was built on the principle of community.

In summary, our museum was built with wide open doors inviting everybody to walk through them. Before it was reduced to a bare minimum, the museum had the best educational system of any museum in the country, serving every person in the entire city who had a desire to learn about art. It was the hub of a robust local artist community that for many years had monthly local shows, and for 95 years had the prestigious annual juried show for local and regional artists. Not to mention the great art collection.

The art collected by the museum was chosen by art connoisseurs for its quality and encyclopedic representation of the world, as opposed to now, where it is chosen to serve a political agenda or fill a quota. From early-on and throughout the past century, our museum had been highly respected and drew great leaders such as Otto Wittmann and Adam Weinberg. The museum always had many shows going on at once and events of public interest. They published newsletters, catalogs and magazines keeping the public informed of all their goings on.

The museum’s mission was to educate and exhibit art to the public.

Today the mission seems quite vapid. That is, to get other museums to notice us and want to be like us. “THE MUSEUM SEEKS TO BECOME THE MODEL ART MUSEUM IN THE UNITED STATES FOR ITS COMMITMENT TO QUALITY AND ITS CULTURE OF BELONGING.” Yet how do we look to other museums when promises are broken? It is hypocritical to appear so “woke” while holding on to a Benin bronze looted art, not exhibiting it, not sending it back to Nigeria, and not a word about it one way or another. Their mission statement reveals their emptiness and hypocrisy, just like their new ad slogan “Art brings Toledo together,” when it’s doing quite the opposite.

The museum should be serving all the people who live here. Local artists matter. Our museum should not be used as a social experiment or as a stepping stone for the director’s next career move. But then it all seems like a smokescreen while they sell our valuable and beloved paintings, and who is profiting from that? Just look at everything that is at stake – artwork that is worth billions collected over 120 years.

With their two million dollar increase in the annual budget for the past two years, they have so much less to show for it.

It’s OUR museum. Where is the oversight?

Who gave them the right to take away the fundamental qualities of our museum, sell our art, demean our founders, kill our local traditions, invade our museum, live off our stellar reputation like blood-sucking vampires, and take our museum in a new direction all their own? Who are these people?

Categories
Artists of Toledo

Remembering Edith Franklin on her 100th

Remembering Edith Franklin on the 100th anniversary
of her birth, December 2, 2022.
Can you feel it – Edith Franklin is in the air. No wonder, it’s her Centennial.

I met Edith early on when I was building this website about the historical artists of Toledo. At the age of 87, she was majorly downsizing, selling her house and her collections. She asked me to help organize her papers to give to the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library of the University of Toledo. We worked on it for almost a year. Here she is donating her papers, shown with the Canaday’s archivist and director, Barbara Floyd (incidentally, who is also the author of The Glass City):

Edith Franklin was quite active. On any given night, she’d be out. She maintained that lifestyle until the week before she died in hospice, three months short of her 90th birthday.

Brian Kennedy, the ninth director of the Toledo Museum of Art, gave a eulogy at Edith Franklin’s Memorial Service on September 2, 2012. He described her as a “delightful chirpy smiling diminutive lady with big eyeglasses and a beautiful necklace who never missed a party.”

“As Director of the museum she loved, where she had studied and taught, which she visited so often, and where in 1962 she participated in the historic first Toledo Glass Workshop, Edith cared deeply that Toledo has a great art museum. After all, Edith had been the very first female artist to receive a solo show at the museum, back in 1958.”

Edith and the Museum

Director Kennedy’s description of Edith in his eulogy was colorful, and she did care very much that Toledo had a great museum, but Edith Franklin was not the first female artist to receive a solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art – not by a long shot. Born in 1922, Edith was a third-generation artist of the once-flourishing and inclusive museum artist community. Seventy women before Edith received local artist solo shows at the museum, starting with Isabel Kuhlman in 1933. (All the local artist shows – 540 local artists from all walks of life – are a thing of the past. See a complete list of the local artist museum solo shows here along with the current museum director’s unfulfilled promise to bring them back.)

Growing up in Toledo and benefiting from the Toledo Museum of Art free children’s Saturday Classes, Edith’s love of clay developed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School during WWII in 1943-44. That’s not all that developed in Boston, as she returned to Toledo in 1945 with her new husband who had served in the Navy. By 1947, they had two children.

Edith took pottery classes at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design for 41 years, from 1945 to 1986. These classes, at a world-renown museum, connected her to the world of pottery, where she got to know the greats. (She couldn’t do that today! Pottery classes for adults have been eliminated. The adult artist community is no longer welcome at the museum – which is quite ironic, since the museum has a new so-called community “Belonging” department with a special director.)

Edith showed her work in nearly every annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition from 1952 to 1982, and won the Purchase Award in 1982. (Not to digress again, but what a shallow new museum director Brian Kennedy was, to have known Edith so well, and to have seen how her history with the museum so perfectly exemplified the beneficial symbiotic relationship between the museum and the local art community, but then to have killed the nearly 100-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition just two years after Edith was gone.)

Edith’s style

Edith incorporated text into her work. Her grandson said that what he learned from her was to take risks, to not fear failing, and to speak truth to power. “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

Many of Edith Franklin’s works revolve around the word “Love.”

Rocket to Love – 27 3/8 inches tall

Edith Franklin was experimental and influenced by what was going on. In a 2000 interview, Edith said,

The artwork since 1948 keeps getting better, it is growing. A lot of that is due to people like Harvey Littleton, who taught at the museum, as well as Hal Lotterman, Dan Woodward, and Hal Hasselschwert. They helped break us out of the ‘red barn’ and ‘sailboat’ mold. People like Harvey talked about ideas that questioned the essence of art and what we were supposed to do with it. The fifties were marked by mentors like these.

In this photo, taken at her 1958 solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art, (on the walls are paintings by Clay Walker), Edith sits next to her double-spouted vessel. It looks like the paintings. Perhaps she was influenced by the work of Toshiko Takaezu, an abstract-expressionist ceramic artist from Hawaii who was Edith’s exact same age. Ms. Takaezu, in the 1950’s, was a teaching assistant at Cranbrook, the esteemed art academy north of Detroit with close peer connections to the artists in Toledo, including Harvey Littleton, Carroll Sims, Clyde Burt and LeMaxie Glover, all clay artists. Edith’s piece, titled Patio Pot, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2016, could have been inspired by the double-spouted vases Toshiko Takaezu was making at the time. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

Edith and some of her distinctive work, photographed in 2010:


Edith and the 1962 Toledo studio Glass Workshop
The birth of the studio glass movement

Edith’s glass pieces from the first glass workshop in March 1962, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2011:


Edith and the 577 Foundation

One of Edith’s favorite stories was how she got her first job at the age of 65. Here is the long and the short of it, as she tells it, first to Barbara Floyd, and then at her 88th birthday party and launch of her new scholarship fund:

Edith at her 88th birthday party and fundraiser event to kick off the new Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund. 150 friends and art supporters were present, including Herral Long, Marty Reichenthal and Joyce Perrin shown in these two photos.  What an arty gang! R.I.P., arty gang.


Edith built her own kiln
brick by brick, rivet by rivet

She wanted to give back – and so she has.

Edith was a great potter who attributed her success to having luck. She was in the right place at the right time, and she seized the day.

Good luck to all of the Edith Franklin Scholarship recipients. I hope they find a supportive, engaging community to live in so that they can be lucky, too. It’s not so great in Toledo anymore, I’m sorry to say – because all the valuable opportunities local artists once had have been taken away. No free museum classes for public school children, no solo shows for local artists, no annual art exhibitions for the community of artists, no adult classes in a museum-centered school where monumental artistic advancements can be developed, such as the birth of the studio glass movement in 1962, which helped the Toledo Museum of Art just as much as it helped the participants and glass artists. The soul of the community has been swept out of the museum, and with it, all of the potential greatness.

Those who happen to live in federally funded housing projects within two miles of the museum are in luck, however. The museum got millions of dollars from Owens Corning and Promedica for installing on-site art-making studios, complete with on-site classes taught by art museum instructors, in ten housing projects. They tout that it serves 18,000 people. I wonder how many are artists. I’m happy for the few artists who qualify, but unfortunately for most of Toledo’s children and adults, since 94% of the population of Toledo does not live in federally funded housing projects, 94% percent of the community is out of luck. If it had not been for the museum classes and shows that were available to the entire Toledo area community throughout the twentieth century, the opportunity for Edith, who lived in Ottawa Hills, to give back with her Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund would have been lost.

I guess that’s why they call it the Greatest Generation – it was before the museum cut us off. Here’s to Edith Franklin, born 100 years ago today. Keep her in your memory, there is much to learn from her.

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

The Museum in the Seventies

Stevens-quote-2


Welcome back to Roger Mandle, the fifth Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, from 1977 to 1988. He spoke at the museum’s Little Theater on June 8. It was a wonderful talk, about working with Otto Wittmann, the 4th museum director of the museum, and then as the assistant director at the National Museum of Art in Washington, DC, and then as president of Rhode Island School of Design from 1993 to 2008, and then how he helped develop two new museums in Qatar. Now he is starting a new museum for art and technology in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

It was a great era when Mandle was at the Toledo Museum of Art, because the museum had meaningful art community involvement. The museum was built on meaningful art community involvement, in fact it was built by artists. Beginning in 1916, the museum offered grade school through high school classes, then university classes, and always adult art classes. Local artists had monthly shows at the museum. The museum hosted the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition (TAA). Who would have thought that the TAA Show would have been extinguished, just four years short of its 100th year celebration next year, what was the oldest, most venerable exhibition of its kind in the entire United States.

I benefited from the classes at the museum from age 9 to 21. I taught the first kids photography class that the museum offered, in 1979, with the darkroom right below the Peristyle stage. I exhibited in a few TAA shows, and in 2013, my daughter’s photography career received a huge boost, perhaps even a complete launch, as a result of her prize-winning entry in what was to become the final local Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. This year, four years later, my daughter is showing her photographs in Venice, Italy in a show at the European Cultural Center in the context of the 57th Venice Biennale.

My daughter spent the summer of 2006 at Rhode Island School of Design in a high school program, and that’s where she fell in love with photography. Because I knew Roger Mandle from the museum, we sent him the photos she shot that summer.  He was sincerely impressed and without our even asking, sent her photos to the admissions department with a strong recommendation. To be encouraged by such a knowledgeable and important person so early on was a great formative experience.

Kids classes as well as adult classes have nearly disappeared at the Toledo Museum of Art. The local art community is no longer tied to the museum that the artist-forefathers of Toledo had so progressively formed. It used to be our museum and everybody understood that — it belonged to the community of Toledo — but today for the first time suddenly it is no longer our museum.

Today it’s all about the grants. A Mellon grant brought down the TAA show, along with a bamboozling by the museum to the Toledo artist community, as if our community artists would benefit by expanding our local art show 10-fold to 13 million people and a 300 mile diameter.  At least it looked good on the grant application. That was three years ago, and it was the last show. Judged by Halona Norton-Westbrook, a Mellon Fellow employed at the museum, the eleven local artists who were accepted into the show happened to be closely associated with the museum (including two employees, the husband of an employee, a past employee, and two past presidents of the Federation.) Only two of the Toledoans were women.

Our current director, Brian Kennedy, tells people openly that Toledo artists are not good enough to show at the museum in any show, even our annual, 100-year old show that’s always been at the museum. So unbecoming of our museum, which had such a progressive, community oriented beginning!

Rejecting local artists is an elitist spin on Toledo’s communal inferiority complex and famously poor self-image. Museum supporters don’t care. They buy their art in New York. Thus, the ax has come down on this fine opportunity and tradition for artists in Toledo. Our deceased museum directors must be rolling in their graves.

It is a shame that the artist community that was once centered around the museum has disappeared and opportunities no longer exist at our most magnificent and inspiring cultural center, the Toledo Museum of Art, that was built by artists, educated artists, and for many years, was led by artists (including Roger Mandle.)

Roger Mandle and the museum directors who preceded him kept the local art community alive and well at the Toledo Museum of Art for more than eight decades. And while accommodating the community, they had blockbuster shows, bigger and better than we see today.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-05-at-3.25.34-PM
1967 was the 50th anniversary of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, Otto Wittmann was the 4th director of the museum.

Brian Kennedy tells people that Toledo area artists aren’t good enough for the museum to continue hosting the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, an important, century old tradition started by the museum with the Federation formed for that purpose. Leslie Adams, past president of the Federation, tells Toledo area artists to trust that with the change in the show, that the museum has their best interests at heart.

The museum gave Adams a one-person show in 2012 as a new Toledo Area Artists Exhibition award in 2011 (the first and only recipient of that award) and the museum even acquired three of her pieces in 2015.

You just have to wonder when they kill our show and profess that no local artist’s work can ever be good enough to show at the museum, but they buy Leslie Adam’s work.