Baby, it’s cold outside. A perfect time for the hour-long drive to The Toledo Museum of Art. There are a number of outstanding shows going on this month, all but one of them free to the public. Start with the world premier of an extraordinary exhibition of the “books” of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, “Aminah Robinson: Voices That Taught Me How To See.” The 69-year old, African-American, Columbus, Ohio based Robinson tells stories – her life, her family, the African Diaspora – in the form of ten 2- and 3-dimensional assemblage/sculptures. Created over 22 years, these are densely-packed combinations of found and everyday objects (buttons, men’s ties, cloth, twigs, shells, music box workings, poems, narratives, etc.) along with traditional arts media to create a remarkable, startling sensation. A cross between folk art, quilting, and beaux arts, they remind me of Tyree Guyton’s world-renowned Heidelberg Project in Detroit, but in miniature.
The “books” are displayed in innovative ways, including cases and pullouts, and they were unknown until TMA’s amazing curator of contemporary and modern art, Amy Gilman, visited Robinson’s home looking to acquire something for the permanent collections. She simply ran across the “books,” never before exhibited. I especially like the use of the African medium, “hogmawg:” mud, pig grease, dyes, small rocks, glue and lime, that Robinson learned from her father. See it to believe it, through February 27.
Running through 2012 is a spectacle: “The Egyptian Experience: Secrets of the Tomb.” It’s 150 objects depicting 3,000 years in the life and afterlife of Egyptian history. The anchors of the show are the TMA’s always-popular two mummies, of a young priest and an old man, that were given in 1906 by museum founders, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Drummond Libbey (yes, of Libbey Glass). And they are popular enough to draw loans for this exhibit from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago’s Field Museum, Indiana University’s Museum of Art, and the Oriental Museum of the University of Chicago.
The show recreates chapels and tomb-like spaces with artifacts from funeral ceremonies and final resting places for royal and semi-royal personages. Among them were a court official, Akhet-Hotep (no relation to Bubba), the overseer to the palace of King Sneuferu, and Ramaru, priest of the mortuary cult of King Khufu and his wife Ankhet – a spooky couple even back then. And Zezen-Nakht, hereditary prince and overseer of the army of the Nineth Nome. And kookiest of all, the royal physician, Amunhotep, also a scribe to King Ramses II. Talk about multi-tasking. The amazing things are not the differences but the similarities with our own death rituals and celebrations. This is a rare exhibit at this museum with a fee, modest for what you get: ten dollars for adults, five for students.
Through February 13 is “Inspired Giving: The Apollo Society 25th Anniversary Exhibition,” celebrating 47 of the museum’s donor group’s gifts, including a Chuck Close masterpiece, Greek gold leaf jewelry from 350 B.C., and a carved hinoki wood sculpture from Japan’s Kamakura Period (13th to 14th century).
And through the 27th is “Life in Miniature: Ceramic Netsuke from the Silverman Collection.” It’s 200 opulent little sculptures that were used as fasteners for silk clothing in the Edo Period (1615-1868). If that’s not enough, there’s a special exhibit of scenes of Venice drawn from the TMA’s permanent collection, arranged by students of art history at the University of Toledo. And there’s always the permanent collection itself, one of the most popular in America. Too cool! Google: Toledo Museum of Art.