In 1835-36, there was a boundary war fought over Toledo between the not yet state of Michigan and the fairly new state of Ohio. It wasn’t much of a war, to be honest. There was only ever one skirmish, and there were no casualties. I’m sure that soon after the war ended, the famous joke started that questioned whether Ohio actually won the war by keeping Toledo.
In actuality, Toledo seems to have a lot going for it these days. They are at the forefront of the “Green Industry” with several plants producing solar panels. The Toledo Zoo was named best in the country in a 2014 USA Poll (a trip to that zoo is in the plans eventually). Then we have the subject of this blog post: The Toledo Museum of Art.
The Toledo Museum of Art is a massive, bordering on cavernous, Greek Revival building constructed in 1912. It’s a two-floor facility, although a majority of the actual galleries are on the second floor. The first floor contains classrooms, and a couple smaller rotating galleries. Due to our rather limited time frame (and the fact we felt a bit guilty going without our artist friend), we saved this for another trip.
Getting up to the second floor, and this looks like a capital M Museum with tall columns welcoming you.
The West Wing is a maze of galleries. A vast majority of the galleries focus on European art. As you enter, you get four good sized galleries of art from the 1800s.
I have to say, far more than the Columbus Museum of Art, this really feels like an art museum. It’s quiet, your footsteps echo in the galleries, the docents follow you around and watch you like a hawk (maybe that’s just me and my Bob Ross shirt I was wearing that day?). The walls are chewed up a bit from where paintings have been hung and re-hung over the years. You can tell it’s been here quite a while.
One thing I quite enjoyed was that they included furniture, chandeliers, and sculpture from the eras in among the paintings. I feel like it helped paint a broader picture of art styles from the time.
The Plot Twist from out of nowhere
Now, the trip I’m writing this post about happened in mid-May, so this next section of art won’t be there if you were to visit today. However, I feel like I need to share. After the four galleries of 1800s European art, you normally enter a 9-gallery cluster of European Baroque and Rococo art. About half that space, on this visit was being used as a showcase of art by Kehinde Wiley. Wiley is a modern African-American painter whose known for taking everyday people, and putting them into classic art poses.
One thing I noticed (and probably why this was in here and not in their normal traveling galleries), is that many of Wiley’s works are gigantic. This one had to be 15 feet tall. The most bizarre painting? Easily this Michael Jackson one, which is his version of Equestrian Portrait of King Phillip II…
and probably my favorite piece in the exhibition…
A very interesting display. A lot of the painting had bold color choices, so they really stood out after several galleries of somewhat muted European art. if you are in Columbus, one of his paintings is on display in the contemporary art section at the Columbus Museum of Art.
Back to the classics
Just off to one side of the Wiley display was a small cluster of galleries that shoehorned in American Art pre-1900 and Asian art. Not much rhyme or reason, but some neat pieces to be sure.
Even with half the galleries being off-view, there was still plenty of older European art on display once we wandered back to the Rococo and Baroque themed galleries.
Help me out here, this is Paul McCartney, right?
I know it was painted in the 1600s, but come on…that’s him! Clearly holding the lyrics to Hey Jude.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share a couple pictures of galleries that don’t feel like galleries. The first one is the palatial Grand Gallery. I “borrowed” this picture from the Art Museum’s website because mine didn’t come out very well. This room feels like it came straight from a palace in France. It is used from time to time for events. There were a few out of place Bose speakers around the room the day we were there
This room is kind of the gateway into the Renaissance section of the museum. Everything for the next little while was religious themed art.
After a whole bunch of paintings of Mother Mary and naked Baby Jesus (seriously, every single one…) we entered the Middle Ages room called The Cloister.
This was my favorite spot in the entire museum. Not because of the ancient religious art, but because of the ambiance. It’s actually a fair bit darker than this picture lets on. It feels like a town square at dusk. As I walked around, I noticed an interesting thing. In this room with thousand-plus year old art, a bunch of people were sitting down, resting against the pillars, just hanging out and checking email. It was such a relaxing atmosphere that I feel like if I lived in the area, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. Except for people like me taking pictures, I did notice this was the only room in the museum with people on their phones. Sort of refreshing to see people actually taking in and enjoying their surroundings. I guess the darkness and the quiet of The Cloister is a good place for it.
By this point in our trip, we had already been at the museum for nearly 2 hours. The museum only had 1 more hour of operations on this day, so we did a speed run of the East Wing.
The East Wing is a truly bizarre mix of modern and ancient art. You walk in, and are immediately met with a large Mark Rothko painting. I’m kind of a Rothko fan (though I couldn’t tell you why) so this was very exciting for me.
Then in the very next room, you see ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian Art tossed together. It’s a weird amalgamation that somehow works.
On the back side of this Classic Court is a beautiful Greek Peristyle theater, which is home for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.
Once finished with the Classic Court and the theater, there are still another 10 galleries of Modern Art. Because we were staring to get tired, and running up against closing time, we sort of flew through these galleries. Our main goal: find names we recognized, and we found a few like Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Piet Mondrian, and Edward Hopper.
The secondary goal was to stop and take a quick look at anything truly visually interesting, and there were a few standouts.
Alas, our time ran out and we had to leave. We didn’t even get to the outdoor sculpture garden, or the Glass Pavilion building across the street that has a couple thousand pieces of glass art on display. So, expect a part two sometime in the future.
Next time, we will visit an art museum, a science center, and a history museum…all in one building. Thanks for reading, please share with your friends!