Previous Director's Letters

Spring 2018

Commemorating the centennial of the Allen Memorial Art Museum has been the happy aim of our staff, community members, and friends during the past months, and we look forward to continued celebrations this spring. The exhibitions presented this academic year have been informed by the museum’s history, and I’m especially pleased that from February to May the AMAM will host Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandt’s Etchings. Co-organized by the AMAM and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, this loan exhibition celebrates not only the rich learning opportunities artworks provide in an academic environment but also an important episode in the AMAM’s past. From 1942 to 1944 the museum provided a secret sanctuary for the Rembrandt etchings held by New York’s Morgan Library, at a time when coastal museums feared bombardment or invasion. The AMAM’s custodianship of these works enabled scholarly research by an Oberlin student, Louise Richards (MA, OC ’44), who went on to become the chief curator of prints and drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Promoting use of original works of art of the highest quality in teaching has been at the heart of our mission for 100 years, and the present exhibition both celebrates and continues that tradition. Co-curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, the AMAM’s curator of European and American art, and Andrew C. Weislogel, a curator at the Johnson, the exhibition and its catalogue present new research on Rembrandt and his practice, including scientific study of the paper he used. The etchings in the exhibition greatly reward close looking, and I hope you will have the chance to enjoy it in person in the coming months.

We began our centennial celebrations in May 2017, and among the many events of the year a dinner, afterglow reception, and symposium in early October were highlights—all complemented by a terrific video focused on the museum’s long history of teaching. We have a full slate of programs planned for spring 2018, with our celebratory year culminating on May 3 with a Purchase Party open to all. Concurrent with our AMAM celebrations has been our focus on Frank Lloyd Wright, as we’ve marked the 150th anniversary of his birth, and we’re excited, too, to host a third event related to Wright—and to the AMAM’s own history—on April 8, when curator Andrea Gyorody will speak about Ellen Johnson’s art collection that was formerly installed in the Weltzheimer/Johnson House.

The summer months, too, will see no shortage of new exhibitions and new ways of engaging with the community, including an installation focused on a newly acquired painting by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and exhibitions that are part of the new contemporary art triennial FRONT International. Conceived by longtime AMAM supporter Fred Bidwell (OC ’74), FRONT opens on July 14 at venues throughout northeast Ohio, including the AMAM and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House. Andrea Gyorody heads up coordination of these exciting projects, which in Oberlin will highlight work by distinguished artists Barbara Bloom and Juan Araujo.

As ever, the staff and I continue to pursue many outside funding opportunities from foundations and organizations, and I’m very pleased that through curator Kevin Greenwood’s efforts one of the museum’s painted screens is being conserved by staff at the National Museum of Korea. And, through generous support of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded in December 2016, the AMAM and the Oberlin College Libraries are engaging in numerous planning efforts to explore ways to expand curricular connections between the institutions. Focus groups of faculty members, students, and staff have provided insight into current joint initiatives and areas in which expanded collaboration would be useful, while consultants with expertise in curricular or technical areas are assessing current practices and making recommendations for future development. Teams of museum and library staff are also visiting other institutions to explore effective models of collaboration. These planning efforts provide a foundation for the future, and the AMAM is thankful to the Mellon Foundation and to colleagues at the libraries for making this work possible.

In addition to our work to secure grants, the Second Century Campaign that was launched last year to provide support for the museum’s future programs, infrastructure, staff, and holdings has generated a tremendous response. Galvanized by an extraordinarily generous pledge of $500,000 from an anonymous donor, we aim to equal that amount with donations totaling $500,000 from other supporters, to reach our goal of $1 million—or $10,000 for every year of the museum’s existence. I’m very pleased to report that we have raised more than 60 percent of our goal. Many of the donations will be used to shore up museum endowments in such areas as acquisitions, conservation, and publications, while others will be used for current projects, including our robust series of public programs and our inspiring, educational exhibitions. If you would like to learn more about making a donation to the museum as it embarks upon its next century, please contact me—and if you have already donated, please know that the staff and I are enormously grateful for your support.

Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director

 

Fall 2017

The much-anticipated year-long celebration of the centennial of the Allen Memorial Art Museum is upon us, and the staff and I look forward to sharing with you the many events organized for this momentous occasion. Our exhibitions this academic year have been planned with a focus on the museum’s history and on the important donors who have ensured, through their generosity, the outstanding quality and breadth of its encyclopedic collection. A centerpiece of our celebratory events will be a symposium on Saturday, October 7, cosponsored with the Art Department and featuring former AMAM directors and staff as well as emeritus art professors and alumni. Additionally, in conjunction with this singular moment, we have launched a fundraising effort – the Second Century Campaign – to provide endowed support for the museum’s future programs, infrastructure, staff, and holdings. Please contact me if you are interested to help assure that the AMAM’s next 100 years encompass the broad range of robust educational and creative programming, and excellence in collecting, that have been hallmarks of its first.

It is especially gratifying at this time to be able both to look back on past successes, and forward to new projects. The AMAM was pleased to partner with the museums at DePauw University and the College of Wooster through a grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association, to publicly launch a web portal called “Teach Visual,” designed to provide faculty and museum staff members the ability to widely share innovative ideas for teaching with objects. We are also happy to have received, through the efforts of curator Andaleeb Banta, a grant for a summer intern from the International Fine Print Dealers Association Foundation, and to participate, with a wide range of Northeast Ohio colleagues, as a partner site in the FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, which will take place in summer 2018. Collaborations such as these get at the heart of what we strive to do each day at the AMAM – innovate, educate, and connect, all in the service of great art and for the benefit of the public.

New staff members are integral to our efforts, and we are especially pleased to welcome Andrea Gyorody and Jill Greenwood as curators. In addition to many other projects, each – along with Asian art curator Kevin Greenwood – will present a program this coming year to celebrate another important milestone:  the 150th anniversary of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. Thanks to Ellen Johnson, a formidable and long-serving Oberlin College professor, the college owns – and the AMAM oversees programs at – the 1949 Weltzheimer-Johnson house, a treasure for our community. And while we are glad for additions to our staff, some personnel changes are much more challenging. I am very sad to share the news that Museum Security Officer Michael Gilbert – who loyally served the AMAM from 1993 to 2017 – passed away suddenly on April 1. His loss has been a blow to all of us, and as we send our sympathy to his wife, son, and family, we recall his friendly demeanor and excellent work ethic that helped ensure the smooth running of all our operations. We miss him.

People – whether staff, faculty, visitors, or other supporters – have been the bedrock of the museum’s success over this past century. The AMAM is a remarkable institution, which has always been open free of charge to all. Above the main entrance of our beautiful Cass Gilbert building, “The Cause of Art is the Cause of the People” is incised in stone. This quote from William Morris encapsulates our belief that art is for everyone. The staff and I are so proud to be here, working with our irreplaceable collections, on behalf of teaching and learning across disciplines at Oberlin College, and for the benefit of all of those who visit. Please be one of them this year – we look forward to welcoming, and celebrating, with you.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Director



Spring 2017

The Allen Memorial Art Museum opened its doors to the public on June 12, 1917; this spring, the staff and I are greatly looking forward to inaugurating a more than year-long celebration of that momentous occasion, and invite you to join us. We will mark the anniversary day itself with a community event featuring birthday cake and gallery viewing, but will kick off our festivities earlier, on May 4, when the museum will host this year’s Harold Jantz Memorial Lecture. It will be given by Dr. Arthur Wheelock of the National Gallery of Art, who worked with Professor Wolfgang Stechow and Professor (and AMAM director) Charles Parkhurst, both of whom were instrumental in the AMAM’s academic and public outreach from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The AMAM’s history will be a particular feature of the exhibitions of academic year 2017–18, but this spring’s provide the perfect lead-in, through both new temporary shows and longer-term reinstallations that call attention to the encyclopedic nature of our important collections.

The two exhibitions organized with artist Fred Wilson, Wildfire Test Pit and Fred Wilson: Black to the Powers of Ten, continue to inspire visitors while garnering national press attention, while our Native American, Islamic, Asian, Ancient, and African holdings are all presented in new ways. A particular highlight is the new African installation, curated by Oberlin College students of Assistant Professor Matt Rarey. My colleagues and I are grateful to alumnus Robert Rotberg, who several years ago set up the Robert Rotberg ’55 and Fiona J.Y. Rotberg ’90 Endowed African Art and Sculpture Fund, which is being used for the first time to support this new installation and its manifold teaching opportunities.

Our many donors, indeed, are integral to the museum’s success, and to honor them our staff installed, in October, a donor recognition screen near our administrative offices. Designed by Megan Harding, it features scrolling lists of supporters—those who donate much-needed funds as well as those who give generously of their time and expertise through service on our Volunteer Guild and Visiting Committee—interspersed with images of works in the collection, including new acquisitions.

Many acquisitions are made by the museum each year, most as gifts from generous donors. The AMAM received an important bequest from the Louis and Annette Kaufman Trust in 2016 that greatly expands our holdings of works by Milton Avery—a friend of the Kaufmans, who were his first collectors—and includes works by other American artists. Louis and Annette Kaufman—a gifted violinist and pianist, respectively—did not attend Oberlin, but each received an honorary degree from the college in 1985 and began a relationship with the AMAM that continued until Mrs. Kaufman’s death at 101 in January 2016. I had the honor of meeting her on two occasions, and of hearing from her about their exciting careers and passion for collecting. In addition to works by Avery, their extremely generous bequest includes works by Leonard Baskin, David Burliuk, Jean Charlot, Warrington Colescott, Mae Engron, Chaim Gross, James Gill, Benjamin Kopman, David Park, Betye Saar, Raphael Soyer, Walter Stein, and James Weeks, as well as many pieces of personally illustrated correspondence from artists including Milton, Sally, and March Avery, Man Ray, and Mark Rothko. Among 12 paintings by Milton Avery that they donated are two portraits of Mrs. Kaufman; the one shown here was to be used as publicity for concert engagements.

Donors with a collection such as the Kaufmans’ may be rare, but enthusiastic supporters of the AMAM and its educational mission are not. The staff and I thank you for being among them, and hope to celebrate the past century of the AMAM’s programs and outreach with you during the coming year.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Director

 

Fall 2016

With his seminal 1992-93 Mining the Museum project at the Maryland Historical Society, the artist Fred Wilson launched what became known as his “interventions” in museum collections: he manipulates, combines, and contrasts works, creating new contexts for – and thus new interpretations of – them, leading visitors to more nuanced understandings of their meanings. This academic year, the AMAM is honored to partner with Wilson on not one but two exhibitions; one, Wildfire Test Pit, follows this premise. Using works from the AMAM collection – including plaster casts that date to the museum’s opening in 1917 – and loans from neighboring partners, Wilson engages visitors with art that poses questions about time, memory, exclusion, and redemption in a setting both interactive and inviting of contemplation. This project has been several years in the making; in 2008, Wilson’s work was first exhibited at the AMAM, and since a visit by the artist to the museum in early 2013 we discussed the possibility of collaborating more closely. Continuing a tradition of presenting new work by contemporary artists, it is thus all the more exciting that the AMAM is also exhibiting a selection of Wilson’s works from 2003 to 2014 that similarly deal with issues of race and remembrance – as well as display practices – in Fred Wilson: Black to the Powers of Ten.

As with all AMAM exhibitions, both will be integrated into college classes and tours, where we expect their themes to resonate strongly with students, faculty, and our broader public. And as the AMAM’s exhibitions this year are linked by the theme of “Time” it is especially fitting that Wilson’s exhibitions not only deal with issues of contemporary importance, but also integrate works from the museum’s earliest days while unflinchingly engaging with issues of race and discrimination that are fundamental aspects of Oberlin College’s own history. I am deeply grateful to the many donors who have contributed funds towards these exhibitions, including significant support from Agnes Gund.

Time’s inexorable movement has been much on my mind as the staff and I prepare for the AMAM’s centennial, which will be celebrated during 2017-18. We’ve had the chance this year to help a sister institution, the Cleveland Museum of Art, founded in 1916, mark its own such milestone, through the loan from May through July of the AMAM’s important Barnett Newman painting Onement IV as part of the CMA’s Centennial Loans program. One of the joys of museum work is the chance to loan to other institutions, where works can be appreciated by different eyes in new contexts.

Another joy, of course, is to receive. This semester the AMAM has the happy opportunity of exhibiting Mondrian’s Abstraction (1939-42), generously loaned by the Kimbell Art Museum. While the AMAM, whose collection is known for works created by artists early in their careers, has the artist’s 1904 Brabant Farmyard, it does not have a work in the style for which Mondrian is best known. Displaying these works side by side gives us an exciting educational opportunity to contrast these two aspects of his practice.

None of the programs and accomplishments detailed in this newsletter would be possible without the AMAM’s stellar staff. After five years in which she has made innovative and significant contributions to our exhibitions and outreach, Denise Birkhofer, Ellen Johnson ’33 Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, leaves us in September for the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto; we will miss her and wish her very well. Other staff changes include Kevin Greenwood’s promotion to Joan L. Danforth Curator of Asian Art, and the addition of Mir Finkelman (OC ’16) to our Office of Academic Programs. I’m enormously grateful to our team – and to you, our visitors – for making possible our wide range of projects and programs. Thank you for your support.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Directo
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Spring 2016

The Allen Memorial Art Museum has long been a venue for new work by contemporary artists, and indeed has collected works by living artists since opening in 1917. In 1951 director Charles Parkhurst launched the Three Young Americans series of exhibitions, in his words, “to bring to Oberlin exemplary paintings in a contemporary idiom.” The AMAM was well-known for important exhibitions of contemporary artists during the 20th century, and my predecessor Stephanie Wiles oversaw several by living artists during 2005 – 08, prior to the museum’s 2009 – 2011 renovation.

Since becoming director in 2012 I have wanted the AMAM to focus a major exhibition again on the work of a living artist—and to do so periodically—presenting a comprehensive look at his or her body of work. While the museum has excelled in organizing thematic exhibitions over many years, there is much to be gained through sustained examination of the career of a single artist, and through the discovery of work that will present new—and possibly challenging—perspectives, and will likely highlight relationships with our collection. Thus it is very exciting to present the first United States retrospective of the career of Judit Reigl. Now in her nineties, she escaped communist Hungary in 1950 and has lived and worked in and near Paris ever since. Curated by Denise Birkhofer, this overview of Reigl’s works from 1950 to 2012 comprises many of her series, from Surrealism to figuration and abstraction, with a focus on music and corporeality.

I am grateful to Sietske and Herman (OC ’52) Turndorf, who brought Reigl’s work to my attention and offered their support in early 2013, and to Janos Gat, a friend of the Turndorfs and of Reigl, who worked with us to make this idea a reality. I hope you will join us February 4 for the opening event, which will include music, refreshments, and talks celebrating Judit Reigl and her powerful legacy.

Female artists have been of special importance in the AMAM’s exhibition and collecting priorities of late; Pat Steir’s Tall Waterfall, a promised gift, is on view throughout this academic year, and we are delighted that Steir will speak at the museum about her career on March 3. We have made a number of important acquisitions recently of works by women. Among these is a large group of promised gifts from Betty Beer Franklin (OC ’65), including works by Dorothy Dehner, Sonia Delaunay, and Marguerite Zorach; works by Jean Shin, Dayanita Singh, and Anna von Mertens from Driek (OC ’65) and Michael (OC ’64) Zirinsky; and a vibrant abstract painting that is a donation from Colombian artist Fanny Sanín. 

Jim Dine, too, very generously has recently donated many works to the collection. We thank him for them, and for spending several days at the AMAM in September, installing one of his large-scale assemblages on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his first solo museum show here.

In addition to the groundbreaking Judit Reigl exhibition, we are extremely proud to present A Picture of Health: Art and the Mechanisms of Healing. Curated by Christina Neilson of Oberlin College and Frances Gage of Buffalo State College, the exhibition introduces a unique topic: an examination across cultures and time periods of the ways visual art has been perceived to both effect and affect physical healing, whether through its materiality or its aesthetic properties.

A wide range of programs will accompany this and our other shows, and we hope to see you at them. The museum’s stellar collections and hard-working staff—including those who are behind-the-scenes—are here for you, our visitors and supporters, and my colleagues and I hope you will be as inspired as we are by art’s power to create positive change.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Director


Fall 2015


For the past few years, museum offerings have been loosely united under a theme: Religion, Ritual and Performance in 2012–13, Realism in 2013–14, and The Americas in 2014–15. We inaugurate the 2015–16 year with the theme of The Body, and present a wide array of new exhibitions and programs that respond broadly to this subject.

Jim Dine, a groundbreaking artist whose works often evoke the presence or absence of the human body, had his first one-man museum exhibition at the AMAM in 1965, and we look forward to celebrating—with him—the 50th anniversary of that at our September 3 First Thursday. In addition to the presence of one of the world’s most distinguished artists, that evening will be special in that a public conversation with Dine will be the first event in the newly conserved King Sculpture Court.

Our project to clean the historic ceiling and clerestory in this space was completed in the spring, with new lighting installed in summer. We hope you’ll join us at this event and others to come, to experience this central, soaring space the way architect Cass Gilbert intended. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results, and are deeply grateful to the many donors who helped with the completion of these projects, as well as new lighting in the Ripin Gallery.

Just as many donors contributed to our recent infrastructure upgrades, others have continued to support staffing and collections. I’m delighted to announce the endowment, through the generosity of Agnes Gund, Richard Spear, and Athena Tacha, of the museum’s modern and contemporary curatorial position, now the Ellen Johnson ’33 Curatorship of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Over the past several months, other donors have endowed funds to support educational programs; acquisitions of art in memory of Hedy Landman ’53, a former AMAM curatorial assistant; and acquisitions of prints in memory of Paul B. Arnold ’41, a beloved former professor of studio art, and specifically of printmaking. A promised gift of a painting by contemporary artist Pat Steir, on view in the West Ambulatory, also highlights the importance to the museum of gifts of art from generous donors.

Many other works, of course, are newly on view in the exhibitions presented by the museum’s curators and guest curators. And AMAM “guests” also include several artworks on loan, one of which is Monet’s stunning Red Kerchief, in the Stern Gallery. The AMAM collection has two Monets, neither figurative, and so it is especially exciting to have this vision of the artist’s wife visit from the Cleveland Museum of Art while our own important early Monet, Garden of the Princess, Louvre, is on view there.

Besides completing work on the King Sculpture Court and Ripin Gallery, and preparing new exhibitions and programs, many other activities have taken place behind the scenes at the AMAM over the past several months. These include the development of a new logo and the design of a soon-to-launch e-newsletter, visits by numerous researchers, and, of course, sustained and meaningful interaction with the college’s faculty and students and our local public. My colleagues on the museum staff and I hope you, too, will take part in our active roster of events—or that you will simply take advantage of our perennially free admission—and experience the power of original works of art to transform lives.


Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director

 

Spring 2015

The Allen Memorial Art Museum is in the midst of a wide range of exciting projects that herald a positive and productive 2015. Our work to restore the beauty, and to enhance the usefulness, of the King Sculpture Court continues apace, with staff from ICA-Art Conservation working daily to clean the historic paintings and plasterwork in this gallery. Their work, coupled with the efforts of others who are assisting us to plan for new lighting in this area, will ensure that for future generations the King Sculpture Court stands as a fitting, and soaring, entrance to all the delights that our museum holds.

The lighting to be installed this year (replacing decades-old fixtures that were poorly adhered, did not conform to current museum standards, and were lacking in energy efficiency) not only will give AMAM staff the capability to properly light the artwork that will adorn the gallery’s walls, perimeter, and central area, but also will provide a gentle glow on the newly cleaned ceiling and clerestory, a feature envisioned by architect Cass Gilbert in 1917, but ultimately not implemented. Importantly, this new lighting will also give us the flexibility to light museum events that are often held in this, our largest space. We anticipate new lighting in our Ripin Gallery, on the museum’s second floor, this year as well, a separate but related project that will ensure suitable illumination for the many works of art—primarily light-sensitive works on paper—that this gallery features. These three projects—the ceiling and clerestory cleaning, the King Sculpture Court lighting, and the Ripin Gallery lighting—have found financial support from many generous donors, for whose gifts I, and my colleagues, feel tremendous gratitude.

Celebrating a historic work of American architecture such as is our Gilbert building is especially appropriate during this academic year, as our curators have focused broadly on the theme of “The Americas” in conceptualizing a variety of exhibitions. New this semester is the first AMAM exhibition to be organized by Kevin Greenwood, the museum’s Joan L. Danforth Assistant Curator of Asian Art. Focusing on the extensive and exceptional group of Japanese woodblock prints collected by Mary A. Ainsworth (OC 1889) during the early 20th century, A Life in Prints: Mary A. Ainsworth and the Floating World fills our Ripin Gallery with a variety of works that exemplify not only the history but also the great visual appeal of this medium. New additions of artworks to our exhibitions of Latin American and early American art will ensure that repeat visitors have fresh experiences with our important collections in these areas. Several new exhibitions, including an off-site collaboration at the Art Department’s Baron Gallery, where works by the artist collective known as assume vivid astro focus (avaf) will be installed, are sure to be both instructive and intriguing.

We were pleased to learn last fall that the museum was successful in its application for a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to support curator Andaleeb Banta’s efforts to research and eventually publish our important collection of old master drawings, a project that will involve a collaboration with Buffalo State College for the technical analysis of some of the works. You can read in the Spring 2015 newsletter's centerfold about just a few of the very many activities that AMAM curators undertake in the larger scholarly and museum arenas. And our academic programs and education offices are flourishing, providing Oberlin students, faculty, and the general public with opportunities to engage with our outstanding collection. In the fall 2014 semester, 70 Oberlin faculty used works from the AMAM collection in their teaching, representing 34 academic disciplines. And we are especially looking forward to welcoming this spring acclaimed artists Alfredo Jaar and Edouard Duval-Carrié as part of our First Thursday series—just two of a wide range of public events scheduled this semester.

I hope that you will visit us often over the coming months, to be inspired by the museum’s exceptional collection, to follow the progress in the King Sculpture Court, and to swell the audience for one of our outstanding events. Your presence and support are what continue to inspire us.



Andria Derstine
John G. W. Cowles Director