You’re in for a treat with a new exhibition at the Taft Museum of Art, on view beginning July 3. While the main Taft historic house is temporarily closed to the public, more than 80 hand-chosen pieces from the permanent collection are on display in the Fifth Third Gallery. Exploring eras, cultures, art forms, materials, and makers, the works are literally showcased in a new environment. Now is the time to experience Charles Phelps Taft’s and Anna Sinton Taft’s collection dedicated to the people of Cincinnati, In a New Light.
What is it like uninstalling an entire art museum?
Taking down the art and moving it to its new location was the first time some pieces have moved in nearly 20 years. “While the artwork is being uninstalled, you get to look at the back of works that have been hanging on the wall or in a case since 2004,” says curator Tamera Lenz Muente. “A great example are our Limoges enamels. On the front, you can see the jewel-like intricate design, while on the back, which is rarely examined, you can see the copper metal surface they are painted on, sealed with a clear coat of enamel.”
What you can expect
“Expect the unexpected,” says Muente. The exhibition is split into categories that resonate with a 21st century audience—think power, wealth, racial and gender inequality, and environmental issues. The 80 pieces are what Muente refers to as the Taft’s greatest treasures; rearranging them tells a different story than they did 10 years ago or 90 years ago when the museum was founded by the Tafts.
Telling a story
The Taft curatorial team dove deep into storytelling, going beyond the tales that have already been told. “More to the Story” interpretive texts offer a deeper dive into each piece and are located next to nearly 30 of the works on display. For example, one of the most famous paintings at the Taft is a portrait by Rembrandt. What the man in the painting is wearing communicates his wealth. “Lace collars in the 1600s in the Netherlands were incredibly expensive,” says Muente. “If you wore one, people knew you could afford it. The black clothing he’s wearing was made with very expensive black dye made from logwood trees that were imported from Central America. The trees were harvested by enslaved individuals, and that particular dye was an incredibly expensive commodity, so only a very wealthy and prosperous person could be wearing the kind of clothes the man is wearing in his portrait.”
The curators also positioned works to tell a story, such as in the section dedicated to power and wealth. There’s a portrait of the Queen of Spain, and nearby the team placed decorative art objects that someone like the queen might have owned to demonstrate her wealth. “Even just looking at a beautiful mahogany table,” says Muente. “We can tell a story by looking at what that table is made out of—every object can tell a story.”
Admission to In a New Light is complimentary. You can help fund the Love This House campaign with a $10 suggested donation during ticket registration that will support the preservation of the Taft historic house, home to the Taft’s permanent art collection. You can also donate directly on the website.