Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Indiana University Art Museum

For those of you that have been following this blog over the years, you will recall that I have been critical of Indiana University's handling of Ray and Laura Wiegus' gift of their tribal art collection to the art museum. It took over two years for the University to acknowledge Ray's death on their website. While that's just plain rude, callous and ungrateful, but it pales in comparison to how the University is actually exhibiting the collection. I not only did all of Ray's appraisal work in the last fifteen years of his life, but I along with Jim Cook was tasked with finding an institution for his extraordinary gun collection. Yes I do feel an obligation to speak out and yes on behalf of Ray I do take it personally.

Years before Ray's death Jim Cook, who in many ways was like a son to Ray, and I constantly recommended to Ray that the gift be contingent upon a reinstallation of his collection. We also strongly suggested that he insist upon someone to act as his voice on this matter after his death. Ray consistently told us that he had complete confidence in Indiana and that plans were already in the works for this installation. Jim and I remained skeptical but were continually given these reassurances by Ray as he rejected our recommendations. Unfortunately our cynicism was justified and Ray was not correct in trusting Indiana.

During this past summer's road trip for the Roadshow that took me by car from Dallas through Rapid City and Cincinnati, I visited Bloominton and the Indiana University Art Museum. I was hopeful that at a minimum some of these very valuable works would at least be secured and safely exhibited. Unfortunately the installation was something I would have expected from a poorly funded University in the late 1950's. The lighting is extremely poor making it difficult to even see some of the objects. Many of the objects are completely exposed creating a major security problem.  This extraordinary Sepik River standing figure, which is illustrated above, is 80" in height and valued far in excess of a million dollars. It is just standing next to a pillar in poor lighting and totally exposed. There are a number of Wielgus objects that are displayed in this way.  It is inconceivable to me that this gallery meets minimum AAM guidelines. It is at best incompetent that any museum curator or director entrusted with the safety of these works could sign off  on this installation. In my world if I were the President of this University I would fire both the curator and the director and close this gallery until the works could be displayed safely. I probably failed to mention in these past articles that Ray also gave the university almost $2,500,000 in cash.

We live in a very strange world that demands that we think the unthinkable. For three large galleries displaying African, Pre-Columbian, American Indian, and Oceanic art, there was one very young guard that could not possible adequately cover this very large area. The men that made this possible, Roy Sieber and Ray Wielgus, would be disappointed and appalled that their desire to do something special for Indiana had been so callously taken for granted. We can only hope that nothing bad happens before the museum gets its act together.

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