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A Monuments Man from Indiana

Today's guest blogger is Annette Schlagenhauff, Associate Curator for Research at the IMA. She is in charge of researching the provenance, or history of ownership, of European paintings in the IMA’s collection.

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

On February 7, all eyes will turn to a movie called The Monuments Men, a much anticipated film directed by George Clooney and featuring a star-studded cast. It tells the story of several brave World War II soldiers who were tasked, against all odds, with preserving monuments in the paths of advancing Allied armies in the final months of the war. Once the war had ended, their mission was to find and safeguard treasures of European art stolen by the Nazis. Until now, their story was largely unknown to the general public, although art museums and provenance researchers had long been amazed by the valiant efforts of the men and women in the Monuments, Fine Art & Archives section of the military. They put their lives on the line in an effort to guarantee that Europe’s finest cultural treasures were preserved for future generations.

As it goes with many Hollywood movies, the broad outlines of the story are true, but names and circumstances have been changed to fit a two-hour narrative structure. So if you are expecting a documentary, you might be disappointed and should watch The Rape of Europa instead, a film released in 2008 which is based on the ground-breaking book of the same title by the historian Lynn Nicholas. But The Monuments Men is to be commended for its ability to focus our attention on the hardships and tragedies as well as the successes of these cultural soldiers, most of whom were older than the average GI and elected to leave careers as artists, architects, archivists, conservators and other museum professionals in order to bring their particular expertise to bear in the Allied war effort.

One of the real-life Monuments Men was Thomas Carr Howe Jr., a native of Indiana. Born in 1904 in Kokomo, Howe was raised in Indianapolis before he left for the east coast to attend university. (If the name sounds familiar to Indianapolis residents or Butler University alumni and students, it’s because his father taught at Butler and then served as its president from 1907 to 1920.) The younger Howe chose to pursue an art museum career and, in 1931, he was appointed assistant director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, becoming that museum’s director in 1939. During WWII, Howe joined the U.S. Navy and served there for two years before being recommended to serve as a Monuments Man.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

When Howe returned to San Francisco in February 1946, the head of Bobbs-Merrill, the Indianapolis-based publishing company, asked him to commit his experiences as a Monument Man to writing. Howe agreed to do so, and later that same year his recollections were published with the title Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. Here we can learn that Howe was present at the Alt Aussee mine when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, both looted by the Nazis, were packed up and brought out of the depths of the mine under considerable time pressure due to the advancing Russian armies. He was also present several weeks later when a group of Monuments Men evacuated the art stored at Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Movie goers will recognize these place names, and Howe’s published recollections were no doubt carefully studied by the team that created and produced the movie.

Saltmines and Castles tells yet another interesting story – and one that can be linked to a specific painting currently in the IMA’s collection. Howe’s first solo assignment in Europe – and the Monuments Men often travelled alone rather than as a team — was to retrieve a cache of 81 cases full of art from Grassau, a small town in southeast Bavaria, where Nazi loot had been discovered. In one of these cases was the IMA’s masterpiece by Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Profile of Laval. This painting had been looted, along with many others, from a prominent Jewish collection (the Herzog Collection) by Hungary’s Nazis in 1944. To safeguard their haul from the Russians, it was moved to the small town in Bavaria. Howe’s efforts were almost thwarted by the Hungarian museum curator who was charged with safeguarding the art, but Howe prevailed and he brought the paintings to Munich where the Central Collecting Point was located. Several years later, it was restituted back to Hungary, and then back to the widow of the Herzog heir. She allowed a dealer to sell it, and it had a number of owners before it was acquired by the IMA in 1998. Long story short, a painting now located in Indianapolis was safeguarded by a Monuments Man from Indianapolis!

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Museum Community, The Collection

 

#drinkingaboutculture

What does it mean to be passionate about culture in your city? How do you meet innovators working in different types of institutions when every day is focused on your own particular sliver (in my case, art and mobile tech) of the cultural pie? After seeing multiple posts from colleagues around the world about local meetups under the hashtag #drinkingaboutmuseums, I was intrigued and interested in making something similar happen in Indianapolis.

Time for a little research! I spoke to some of the founders of #drinkingaboutmuseums to see how their local “chapters” worked. Ed Rodley, of the Museum of Science, Boston, and author of the blog Thinking about Museums told me that in Boston, DAM:BOS meets monthly at a host museum for a presentation, and then moves to a bar for social time. Koven Smith of Denver Art Museum shared that the Colorado group meets irregularly, bar only, and uses Meetup.com to keep the group to museum professionals only.

Then I contacted the most social Indy museum person I know for a little backup, my IMA colleague Richard McCoy. Richard said that he had been having a similar conversation about building cultural community with Malina Jeffers of the Madame Walker Theatre Center. We met to discuss some ideas about hosting this kind of event in Indy: what were we trying to do? We know the museum and technology communities are small, but the greater arts and culture community is thriving. People are very passionate about culture in our city. We decided to expand the group from just museums to cultural organizations of all kinds and Indy’s #drinkingaboutculture was born. We also decided to meet only four or so times a year, keep it casual (read: at a bar), and with a short presentation about a local project to kick off conversation.

So, we hope you will join us tomorrow for a drink and to discuss cultural innovation in Indy!

Inaugural #drinkingaboutculture INDY

Tuesday, September 11, 5:30pm at Bourbon Street Distillery

Topic: Mali Jeffers of the Madame Walker Theatre Center will briefly introduce a collaboration with WFYI on a self-guided tour of the Theatre, led virtually by Mr. Ridley, a longtime docent. The fifteen minute presentation will be followed by a conversation/Q&A about the project.

 

Filed under: IMA Staff, Local, Museum Community, Technology

 

Sanctuary

Our guest blogger today is Jessica Hancock, volunteer at the IMA.

I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

My favorite time to volunteer at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is on a Friday night when museum hours are extended to 9pm.  You know that feeling of peace that you have right before a soft spring rain starts to fall?  Or the sensation you feel the moment that you first see the ocean when you arrive on a beach vacation?  Yeah.  That’s my cheesy analogy for the feeling I get when I sit in a quiet, serene gallery on a Friday night.  As a volunteer of the IMA, I have the luxury of feeling like the permanent galleries of the museum are my private sanctuary.  My personal church.  I suppose I should pause for a moment and explain who I am and why I’m lucky to be blogging here…

My name is Jessica Hancock and I’ve been a volunteer for the IMA since the fall of 2008.  At that time, I was going through a particularly challenging time in my life.  It was a time when I felt like, even though I had a million friends and a million different options for a Friday night, all I wanted to do was be still.  One day I reverted back to my roots, so to speak, and I thought about the days when I used to strut around the old IMA galleries alongside my Busha (polish for Grandma).  Busha was a museum docent, post retirement, for over 20 years. She used to bring my cousins and me around the museum, educating us through every twist and turn we’d take through the galleries.  I remembered how proud I was of her, how I wanted to have that substantial knowledge about art.  So I walked right into the museum on a Sunday afternoon in November and started volunteering.

Hands down, it was the best decision I ever made!  Four years later, I volunteer once a month on the first Sunday of every month at the guest services kiosk.  The months that I do not volunteer, I feel anxious.  Art does something different for everyone.  One of my favorite questions that I get when I’m volunteering is usually from an eager parent asking, “Where do I start?  Which gallery would my kids enjoy the most?”  It’s an exhilarating and proud moment when I get to share my expertise and personal favorites in the museum!

To volunteer means to make yourself useful to others.  In whatever way you choose to do so, volunteering can be humbling and a reminder you of who you really are.  For me personally, there is an attracting element to knowing art and being able to share it with others.  Being present and giving my time to the IMA once a month was my way of feeling close to something I love.  I have the endless opportunity to educate myself and museum guests every time I’m there.   So if you find me still and in a “moment” at the museum on a Friday night, just know that I’m just enjoying my personal sanctuary.

Filed under: IMA Staff, Museum Community

 

Is Your Community Better Off Because it has a Museum? Final Thoughts About Participatory Culture (part III)

In the first two posts of this series we examined some of the challenges and opportunities for museums and libraries in an era of participatory culture, and also highlighted a few of the more pressing questions that popped up in discussion among colleagues during a recent meeting at the Salzburg Global Seminar.

In a gathering that could ostensibly have been about how technology and social media have changed the landscape of museum practice, I was so thrilled to find that almost all of our discussion focused on how museums and libraries can make significant and lasting changes in our local communities. Working in a museum, I’ve taken that as my context, but many of these issues have important corollaries in libraries as well.

Perhaps the most useful change in my own thinking is an understanding that the era of participatory culture is not a new thing, but rather – enhanced by recent trends in technology – one that has its roots in the very reasons why museums exist in the first place.  While technology, social media, and mobile adoption influence the ways that we engage museum audiences and the expectations they bring into the museum, an attitude that invites participation has the potential to transform individual and community experiences that enhance the public value of the work we do.

Why is your community better off because it has a museum?

I’m challenged by the courage and convictions of colleagues I met in Salzburg, who take a commitment to their local community very seriously. Whether helping neighbors recover from devastating storms in the Philippines, reaching out to the homeless and poor communities in Sao Paulo, or bringing libraries to rural Kenya on the backs of camels, I found myself inspired to think about how a museum in Indianapolis can learn from such tangible demonstrations of public value.

In his book “Making Museums Matter,” Stephen Weil talked about a mandate for museums to demonstrate real value within our communities:

“Why is your community better off because it has a museum? [The answer] must necessarily be something more than, because otherwise it wouldn’t. Museums matter only to the extent that they are perceived to provide the communities they serve something of value beyond their own mere existence.”

The Occupy Museums protests demonstrate a growing frustration with the way museums see their role in today's society

This topic surfaced repeatedly during the conversations about participatory culture in Salzburg. The consensus among the group coalesced in an assertion that museums have an inherent mission to deliver public value driven by a universal right to cultural access.

It is clear to me that although museums have long enjoyed a privileged place in the public’s confidence, societal and economic changes, as well as the public’s expectation of museums, have significantly augmented the landscape of public value.  New questions about what constitutes public value and who sees the benefits of that value need to be considered seriously by those museums that want to see real impact from their effort. Lest we think that the value of museums is secure, the nascent ”occupy museums” movement reminds us that a growing frustration exists with the way museums think about their role in society.

The real test for public value is not what the museum says it is, but rather the value attributed to us by our communities and stakeholders. Simply declaring that the museum is valuable isn’t a substitute for actually demonstrating that value on a consistent basis.

At the heart of the issue is the museum community’s willingness to take a harsh look in the mirror and ask hard questions about whether or not we actually do a good job of bringing value to our constituents. In my opinion, a more wholehearted embrace of participatory culture may be the tonic we need to really delve into the ways that museums can change their current practice.  To realize the benefits of participatory culture will require an openness to welcome new opinions about the museum.

Serhan Ada, from Istanbul Bilgi University had a wonderful way of framing the difference. He notes that, “Participation occurs when someone welcomed as a guest feels as though they have become a host.” Are visitors to your museum truly guests in this sense? Perhaps the benefits of participatory culture are most easily witnessed with such a shared sense of ownership.

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Filed under: Current Events, Museum Community, Musings

 

Please Chime In: The Challenges and Opportunities of Participatory Culture

With the hustle and bustle of life and meetings swirling around us all, it’s a rare occasion that we get to step outside of that pace and reflect on “big issues.” Contemplating an approach for the challenges that face museums given the changes in popular culture can make the difference between an organization that significantly impacts its community for good, and those that simply succeed at keeping the doors open.  Given the economic challenges many museums are encountering, keeping the doors open is – in and of itself – a challenge.  I’m a firm believer that times of challenge can be the best possible times to seize the opportunities at hand and make big changes.

I’m grateful for an opportunity to join a small group of museum and library experts in Salzburg next week for a meeting at the Salzburg Global Seminar entitled, “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.”  I’ve agreed to participate and blog about my experiences from my perspective as a museum executive and a technologist.  I thought that in the spirit of “participatory culture,” I could ask a number of my friends and colleagues their opinions about the biggest challenges facing museums and libraries today.  I’ll bring those ideas and insights to Salzburg with me and represent those thoughts in the discussions there.  Please feel free to join the discussion on Twitter (#museumchallenges) or post your thoughts in the comments here.

The responses I’ve received via email and twitter have been pretty amazing! Several of my colleagues pointed out that museums are still adjusting to a perceived shift in our relationships with visitors.  Museums want to engage visitors and provide a variety of deep experiences, but don’t quite know how to sustain those efforts over a long period of time.

Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology from the Brooklyn Museum of Art asks the critical questions about how museums can build consistency in their efforts of engagement.

“How do we create engaging experiences consistently, so that visitors feel participation is part of the overall culture of the institution?  I’ve seen a lot of one-offs, where there’s a burst of activity around one single project, but the challenge is creating a consistency so that valued participation is always part of the museum experience.  In addition, these projects too often just exist online and not within the walls of the institution when people visit. The challenge is creating an overall experience that works both online and off and one that consistently allows visitors to participate in meaningful ways.”

Rich Cherry, Director of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, points out that this goal of engagement and interaction with visitors both online and in the gallery carries with it some different expectations from public audiences and funding agencies that make planning for sustainability more difficult on the museum.

“Museums are in a difficult transition phase because of changing media consumption.  While young audiences are consuming social media and online content, older audiences are making that transition more slowly.   Unlike past shifts in media, this one is more interactive and limits the ability to simply re-purpose content.  This creates unique staffing and budgetary issues that are compounded by the recent economic downturn.  Funders are pushing museums to engage these new audience behaviors while not recognizing that a significant audience does not use these new methods and [museums] must support a dual track for some time to come.”

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Museum of Art and History Santa Cruz, makes the point in her book about The Participatory Museum that,

“Participatory projects are like gardens; they require continual tending and cultivation. They may not demand as much capital spending and pre-launch planning as traditional museum projects, but they require ongoing management once they are open to participants. This means shifting a larger percentage of project budgets towards operation, maintenance, and facilitation staff.”

In addition to this fact, when I asked Nina what she saw as the challenges for museums seeking to embrace a participatory culture, she raised an important issue about museums’ strategy for funding these initiatives. Nina asks, “How do [museums] use participatory techniques to support more diverse and equitable use of our resources (as opposed to providing more for the people we already serve well)?

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Filed under: Interviews, Museum Community, Musings

 

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