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How To Experience The Taft Museum Of Art During Renovations

Taft museum
Tana Weingartner
A temporary exhibit at the Taft Museum of Art considers the historic collection through three contemporary lenses.

The Taft Museum of Art’s historic house is closing for nearly a year while the historic Lytle Place mansion undergoes rehabilitation and infrastructure updates. However, the museum is reimagining its collection in a pair of temporary exhibitions.

In a New Light, Treasures from the Taft opens July 3 in the museum's special exhibition gallery. It features about 80 of the museum's finest works of art, including pieces by Rembrandt, Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

Curator Tamera Muente explains the works are displayed in a new context under three themes relevant to modern audiences. It's the first time the museum has ever presented its collection in a thematic way.

"We take a look at power and wealth. We take a look at gender, race and class; and nature and the environment and how the human relationship is complicated with nature," she says.

The museum's collection is "pretty traditional" with lots of European influences. The museum opened in the 1930s with works from the personal collection of Anna Sinton Taft and Charles Phelps Taft. Muente explains how the exhibition applies these new lenses through which to be viewed.

"We are looking at things like subject matter. We're looking at the materials that objects are made out of, and in the case of a few objects, the artists who made them," she says. "We're really digging deep and I think that the stories that we're revealing will be surprising to people."

She expresses how the exhibit has the potential to reach new audiences by connecting "art of the past" to today's issues.

"You can explore a lot of different issues - social context, historical context - through a work of art that's made in (for example) 1609... how (it's) relevant to what's interesting today. This show is really going to do that," says Muente.

In a New Light, Treasures from the Taft runs July 3, 2021 - May 1, 2022.

Credit Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio. Bequest of Charles Phelps Taft and Anna Sinton Taft, 1931.XXX
James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903) "At the Piano," 1858–59, oil on canvas. Taft Museum of Art, Bequest of Louise Taft Semple, 1962.7

Borrowed Gems

While the Taft Museum of Art’s historic house is closed, a second exhibit is planned, taking approximately 40 works off-site. Borrowed Gems from the Taft Museum of Art opens July 23 and will be free of charge at the Cincinnati Museum Center. It will include landscapes and portraits by master painters, including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles François Daubigny and Thomas Gainsborough.

Muente says the museum is excited to display a portion of its collection in a space dedicated to Cincinnati history.

"There we tell the story about how the Tafts' collecting and how their philanthropy impacted the community, and share some of these interesting stories that bring these works from the 17th to 19th centuries and make them relevant to 21st century."

That exhibit runs July 23, 2021 - Feb. 21, 2022.

Robert S. Duncanson (American, 1821–1872), "The Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli, Italy," 1870, oil on canvas. Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library


When the Taft Museum of Art’s historic house reopens next year, visitors can expect to find all new interpretations of most of the works. Muente notes that many items lacked explanatory text prior tothe renovations. Once completed, the updated museum will offer new information, even for regular visitors.

Not all of the museum's works are being removed during the restoration. Thehistoric Duncanson muralsadorning the home's entry hall will be covered and monitored during the renovation.

Cincinnati artist Robert S. Duncanson is considered the most well-known African American artist of the Civil War era. The eight murals inside the Taft House were commissioned by one of the home's previous owners, Nicholas Longworth, whom the Cincinnati Art Museum says recognized and fostered Duncanson's talent. They're considered "the most significant pre–Civil War domestic murals in the United States," according to the Taft Museum of Art.

You can still see one of Duncanson's paintings in the temporary exhibit. Duncanson's The Temple of the Sybil, Tivoli, Italy - on loan from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County - is displayed prominently in the section tackling gender, race and class.

This story has been corrected to reflect only the Taft Museum of Art’s historic house is closed for renovations. 

The Taft Museum of Art is a financial supporter of Cincinnati Public Radio.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.