Brian Kennedy starts as new director of TMAWritten by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Each day Brian Kennedy changes the postcard on display in his office—today’s postcard features a picture of Pablo Picasso.
“Picasso has his hands against the window, so he’s looking outside from inside. This morning when I came in, I’m inside looking outside and so is he, so I just ruffled through my box and thought, ‘that one will work’,” said Kennedy from his office overlooking the Monroe Street entrance of the Toledo Museum of Art. “It’s just whatever I’m thinking at the time.”
The new director at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) always loved art, but began actively taking an interest when he was 13 years old.
Kennedy had an aunt who sent him a postcard for his birthday and he began collecting them. Shortly after he began his collection, Kennedy began attending weekly art lectures at the National Gallery in Ireland, he said.
“I’d leave school at 4 and lectures were at 5 and over at 6. James White, who was director of the National Gallery at the time, use to do [the lectures.] That gave me enthusiasm, because he was a great art enthusiast,” Kennedy said.
By the time Kennedy entered college to study art history, he had more than 5,000 postcards. Today, Kennedy has lost count of the number in his collection.
Kennedy participates in many different forms of art, he said.
“I do lots. I badly dance and badly sing. I’m not up to any standard; I don’t really care about that. I just believe in the importance of expressing yourself,” Kennedy said. “Whatever you do just express yourself. Be yourself, be happy being yourself.”
Kennedy said the form he usually expresses himself in is writing. Kennedy has written a number of art books, including an upcoming book on American painter and printmaker Frank Stella.
Kennedy spent 18 months working intensively on his book and read lots of material about Stella.
“The early ’60s doesn’t sound like a long time ago, but there was so much happening there’s huge room for scholarship,” Kennedy said. “Currently, this decade has the type of energy in it in terms of artmaking, in particular the fusion of the arts that is occurring around performances and instillation and electronic media that was present in the early ’60s.”
Choosing a new director
When searching for a new director, the TMA selection committee hosted an international search with many outstanding candidates, according to George Chapman, chairman of the selection committee and TMA board member.
Kennedy has worked in museums around the world. He’s served as assistant director of the National Gallery of Ireland, the director of the National Gallery of Australia and most recently as the director of the Hood Museum of Art in Dartmouth.
His experience is one of many reasons Kennedy was selected as director of TMA, Chapman said.
“He has wonderful experience and understands the need to market the museum,” Chapman said. “He understands that museums compete with other forms of entertainment. He understands the need to make it appealing to the customer. Brian also understands the need to raise funds and get people committed, which is very important for a nonprofit organization.
“We also made it clear that the individual we chose was someone who was not only going to be the director of the museum, but a leader within the community. Collaborate with the University of Toledo, Bowling Green, the Toledo Symphony and the zoo. Brian and his wife Mary were perfect for that,” Chapman said.
Kennedy began his position as museum director Sept. 1.
Kennedy first visited the TMA while he was the director at Hood as part of a museum director convention, he said.
Kennedy had always heard about Toledo and was anxious to leave the reception in the Glass Pavilion to visit the main museum, he said.
“It was like, my goodness, the cloisters and all these little rooms. Particularly, one French room, and then the whole classical court… It was a combination of spaces more than what individuals were in them,” Kennedy said. “Individually, I was struck by how wonderful the collection was. Work for work this is an outstanding collection.”
Among the museums Kennedy has worked for TMA has the smallest collection, but Kennedy sees nothing wrong with that.
“What Toledo is known for is a first-class display collection. The permanent collection presented to the public is fabulous. It really is impossible to come here as a first-time visitor without being completely wowed by what’s here,” he said. “There’s 30,000 works here. Most museums only have the capacity for a couple hundred or thousand.”
Kennedy would, however, like to add to the museum’s permanent collection as director. His first focus will be adding modern and contemporary artworks, he said.
“I think in the modern contemporary area for judicious reasons of always wanting to acquire the very best object. That’s more difficult when you look at art more recently because the distillation process hasn’t happened yet and there’s less of that than I would like,” he said.
Kennedy also believes the museum has missed certain moments in art history and points to the museum’s lack of a Jackson Pollock as an example. Kennedy hopes to acquire a Pollock piece for the museum, he said.
“I have my own enthusiasms with what I’ve done before, but I want to work in the enthusiasm of the people here,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has an eclectic interest in art, which partially comes from traveling the world, he said.
“I always started out thinking 17th century Holland, the Netherlands, was just perfect for me. I was very cool, calm, sensible—that was the way I thought I was,” he said. And then I had my Baroque phase; I thought that’s much too much of the head, the mind; We really need to be exploring the heart, so I became very passionate about it, going back a century.
“In more recent times I find the fusion in our own times. Modern and contemporary art has absorbed me. So I’ve spent a lot of time in that area, the last decade,” he said.
Kennedy also noted an interest in Australian Aboriginal and Native American art.
Kennedy said he believes in permanent collections and will focus most of his attention on finding ways to continue to promote and expand them.
“The exhibit that is here all the time is an incredible permanent collection,” he said. “The temporary exhibits help to enliven it and create interest in the museum on an ongoing basis but the focus is on the permanent collection.”
But, Kennedy won’t ignore bringing exhibits to TMA, he said. Kennedy hopes to work with more contemporary artists and bring them to the area, he said.
“It’s a fundamental belief that I share with many, that great art is made by great artists. I want to bring artists to Toledo. I think once they see what’s in the museum they’re going to be very excited to work with the Toledo Museum of Art and they will make art while they’re here,” Kennedy said. “We already have that happening in the Glass Pavilion with glass artists.
“[The art] they might make with us might excite people. What’s happening in contemporary art is very, very exciting,” he said.
Two things make contemporary art exciting, Kennedy said. The first is the line between art and artifact has been blurred.
“Before, the artifact, or craft object, has a functional purpose, while the art object doesn’t other than being looked at … But the blurring has created this wonderful global art by artists who are not master artists trained in a school system,” he said.
Whether it’s making a basket or oil painting, the work is valued as important, Kennedy said.
Another exciting part of contemporary art is new media, Kennedy said. The ability to fuse different ideas together, to take a painting and create a sculpture, he said.
“Oftentimes, we have difficulty naming something, is it a painting is it a sculpture? What sort of an object is it? Is it jewelry?” Kennedy said.
The ability of new media to be inserted into old art or fused with old art pushes the boundaries of art and confronts the viewer, he said.
Kennedy’s wife and son will relocate to Toledo with him and his daughter will continue her schooling in New Hampshire.
TMA is open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Admission to the museum is free. For more information, visit www.toledomuseum.org.