From the 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


Read previous Director's Letters here.