When it comes to Ohio art museums, we’re used to thinking that Cleveland and Cincinnati have encyclopedic ones and those in other cities are smaller with more focused — or limited — collections.
But after a recent trip, it’s clear the Toledo Museum of Art can hold its own with Cincinnati’s — and I mean that in a good way, since the breadth and strengths of Cincinnati’s collection are impressive.
Toledo can be visited on a day trip, although you do have to save a good three or four hours to really see the museum’s campus with its monumental, Ionic-columned classical-style main building, additions and outdoor sculpture. Fridays are especially convenient for a visit, as the museum — which has free admission — is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. With 30,000 objects, Toledo’s collection is only half the size of Cincinnati’s and less than Cleveland’s 42,000, but it’s three times that of Columbus. Still, size isn’t everything in art — my eyes can glaze over pretty quickly looking at too many small stone antiquities or works on paper.
But, first off, Toledo has an outstanding collection of glass objects — the finest I’ve seen and one that will surprise anyone with its beauty, complexity and history.
The museum was founded in 1901 by Edward Drummond Libbey of Toledo-based Libbey Glass (now Libbey Inc.), and there has consistently been a strong connection between the two. For instance, the museum displays an astonishing cut-glass punch bowl, stand and cups that Libbey made for the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis. At the time, it was considered the largest cut-glass object in the world (it might still be), and coming upon it is like beholding a boulder-sized polished diamond. It’s that elegant. There is also an impressive selection of contemporary art glass.
But the modernist new building (2006) — the Glass Pavilion — housing the collection is every bit as impressive as the objects. Designed with seductively curved glass exterior and interior walls by the Tokyo firm SANAA, Ltd., it seems as open and fresh as air itself. Its human-scale dimensions make it seem livable, a soul mate of Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.
While the Glass Pavilion isn’t as radically urban as Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center here, you need to see both if you care about contemporary museum architecture. (Coop Himmelb(l)au’s recently completed Akron Art Museum expansion also needs to be seen.) The Pavilion also includes a studio where artists offer ongoing glassblowing demonstrations.
The museum’s campus also includes the metalliclooking Frank Gehry-designed University of Toledo Center for Visual Arts, which has shows that I didn’t have time to tour. The main building has 45 galleries, with many substantial works in numerous collections — again, often a result of Libbey’s largesse. The sizeable Modern & Contemporary collection has some exceptional work, such as Marisol’s 1968 installation “The Party,” featuring 15 life-size, rigidly stylized figures occupying but not sharing space.
Elsewhere, El Greco, the Old Master who lived in Toledo, Spain, and is regarded by many as a precursor of Expressionism, is represented by a fine spiritual painting, “The Agony in the Garden.”
There is so much more, really, that I’m ready for another trip. For information about the museum as well as its special exhibitions, visit www.toledomuseum.org.
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: firstname.lastname@example.org